It’s the cosmic catch of the day. An incredibly high resolution new image of the “Lobster Nebula” has been made available by astronomers using a massive new instrument in Chile.
Captured using the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) at NOIRLab’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, this image measures 570-megapixel, though is being made freely available for anyone to download as a 370-megapixel file. The TIF file measures 21,135 x 17,523 pixels and is 2.2 GB in size, though a variety of smaller file sizes are also provided.
DECam is mounted on the Victor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope and being used for the Dark Energy Survey (DES), an astronomical survey designed to constrain the properties of dark energy.
The Lobster Nebula — also called NGC 6357 — is a star-forming region about 400 light-years across that exists about 8,000 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Scorpius. It reveals bright young stars surrounded by billowing clouds of dust and gas.
A the center is Pismis 24, a cluster of huge stars — several of them over 100 times the mass of the Sun — which is surrounded by a region of very young stars and protostars still surrounded by the gas and dust they are forming from. You can also see dark clouds and the effect of interstellar winds, blazing radiation and magnetic fields.
Here’s an image of Pismis 24 taken in 2010 using the 1.5-meter Danish telescope at the ESO La Silla Observatory in Chile:
The image is created using filters. Each filter on DECam enables astronomers to isolate specific wavelengths of light to allow them to see specific objects. As well as allowing astronomers to work out the chemistry, temperatures and motions of stars within the Lobster Nebula, these filters produce a beautifully colored image when stacked together.
A similar process is used by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to make its otherwise invisible infrared images visible to the human eye. However, for DECam the filters are used mainly to create a much brighter finished image.
The new image of the Lobster Nebula was unveiled to celebrate 10 years of DECam, which has just passed the milestone of taking one million individual exposures of the night sky.
The Cerro Pachón mountaintop in Chile it sits atop is also the new home of the th Vera C. Rubin Observatory (VRO). Expected to begin observing in 2023, the VRO’s 10-year “Legacy Survey of Space and Time” (LSST) survey of the sky will image the entire southern hemisphere night sky every three nights, with each image covering an area 40 times the size of the full Moon.
The wide-angle observatory will alert astronomers to real-time events and construct a huge data archive. It’s expected to dramatically advance astronomers’ knowledge of the cosmos.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.