You can literally zoom into this photo for light-years. Containing nearly two billion pixels, this stunning new image of the Cat’s Paw Nebula and Lobster Nebula is the second largest photo to ever come out of the European Southern Observatory in Chile.
To give some perspective, the sibling nebulas are over two thousand light years apart. Yet this image, taken by ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope and released to the public on Wednesday, fits both massive bodies in a single shot. The nebulas give off so much dust and gas that it creates a nursery-effect for young stars. The newborn stars absorb a lot of hydrogen gas and stardust to form, which is what gives the image the raging reds and purples.
The star clusters were first discovered off the South African coast by William Herschel in 1837. But, it wasn’t until better technology could reveal their true shapes that scientists named them Lobster (left) and Cat’s Paw (right). But, even with today’s advanced instruments, scientists still can’t get through the dense gaseous region to see the baby stars forming in detail.
With the help of infrared and ultraviolet technology, however, researchers are able to glean a lot of information. What they’ve learned so far is that the masses of each nebula are about 10 times the mass of the sun. Each body also emits a crazy amount of ultraviolet light. When that light meets with hydrogen atoms, the atoms become ionized — blasting particles apart and creating even more gas in the region.
This activity in the Scorpio cluster has been in a constant state of life and death for millions of years. As the old stars die, they transfer their properties to new ones — stardust to stardust.