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European Southern Observatory releases stunning photograph of colourful star cluster

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has released a stunning photograph taken by its awesomely named Very Large Telescope.

The photos show the colourful star cluster RCW 38 doing the whole ‘star light, star bright’ thing. The cluster is part of the constellation of Vela (The Sails), found a cruisy 5500 light-years away from our tiny blue planet.

As for what we’re looking at, it’s an area mainly made up of young stars and protostars – the latter of which NASA defines as the “hot core at the heart of the collapsing cloud that will one day become a star”.

“The intense radiation pouring out from these newly born stars causes the surrounding gas to glow brightly,” ESO explained.

“This is in stark contrast to the streams of cooler cosmic dust winding through the region, which glow gently in dark shades of red and orange. The contrast creates this spectacular scene — a piece of celestial artwork.”

The Very Large Telescope, which seems to have taken a leaf from Australia’s proud tradition of naming things after what they are – think the Blue Mountains, Dismal Swamp or the Great Sandy Desert – is located in Cerro Paranal in the mountains of northern Chile.

Actually consisting of four telescopes (which sorta blows the whole ‘named after what it is’ theory out of the water), ESO claims its instrument is “the world’s most advanced optical instrument” – with the images released of RCW 38 certainly doing that claim no harm.

As for how the images were captured, they were actually test snaps: the observatory wanted to see just what they can do with their HAWK-I camera when it’s utilising the GRAAL adaptive optics system.

HAWK-I “operates at near-infrared wavelengths”, while the GRAAL system “makes use of four laser beams projected into the night sky, which act as artificial reference stars, used to correct for the effects of atmospheric turbulence — providing a sharper image”.

We look forward to seeing the kind of images produced when the system is out of test mode and in full flight.

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Joe was Junior Vice-President at Compu-Global-Hyper-Mega-Net until it was bought out by Bill Gates. He now subedits for Conversant Media and considers it a step up.

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