In the beginning

Look: New telescope image captures towering star nursery in terrific detail

One of our closest nebula neighbors gets a stunning new portrait.

ESO

ESO/L.Calçada, ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: D. De Martin. Music: Azul Cobalto

Less than 2,500 light years from Earth, a great pillar of dust towers in the darkness of space, itself a birthplace for light.

Called the Cone Nebula, this dramatic, star-forming region has been observed by many telescopes over the years.

ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: D. De Martin

NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M.Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), the ACS Science Team, and ESA

Take this haunting portrait released in 2002 from the Hubble Space Telescope, for example.

ESO/L.Calçada, ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: D. De Martin. Music: Azul Cobalto

This week, the European Southern Observatory released a drastically different portrait of the old favorite.

Imaged in visible light by the Very Large Telescope, the new image gives the Cone Nebula a never-before-seen depth.

ESO

The dark dust clouds show just how densely this region is packed with cold gas, creating the ideal conditions for spawning new stars.

ESO

ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: D. De Martin

ESO also released a stunning wide-field capture of the nebula’s place in space.

ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: D. De Martin

Here’s where the cone rises.

It’s a bit difficult to spot from a distance.

ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: D. De Martin

Though it’s a massive seven light years tall, the nebula pales in size against the backdrop of the universe.

It’s just one part of the NGC 2264 region, which also contains the Christmas Tree Cluster — a group of stars that look like spherical ornaments.

ESO

ESO released the new image of the Cone Nebula to commemorate its 60th year as an organization.

ESO/L.Calçada, ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: D. De Martin. Music: Azul Cobalto

ESO

And even though the close proximity of the nebula makes it well-studied, the VLT’s snapshot shows that there’s always something new to see in an old favorite.