ELEVEN AND A HALF MILLION light-years away in the direction of the southern constellation Sculptor, lies the beautiful galaxy NGC 253. Also known as the Sculptor Galaxy, it has been given the names Silver Coin Galaxy or Silver Dollar Galaxy by amateur astronomers.
Indeed it is a popular target for amateurs, and can even be glimpsed through binoculars. It is one of the brightest galaxies in the sky after the Milky Way’s closest, big galactic neighbour, the Andromeda Galaxy.
But professional astronomers are interested in it too, having noted widespread active star formation within it, hence its other label as a “starburst” galaxy.
The many bright clumps dotted throughout the galaxy are “stellar nurseries” where hot, young stars have just ignited. The radiation streaming from these giant blue-white baby stars makes the surrounding hydrogen gas clouds glow brightly (green in this image).
NGC 253 was discovered by the German–British astronomer Caroline Herschel, the sister of the famed astronomer William Herschel, as she searched for comets in 1783.
The image was captured by the European Southern Observatory’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST), and is probably the most detailed wide-field view of this galaxy and its surroundings ever made.
As well as NGC 253, zooming in also reveals a very rich tapestry of much more distant galaxies far beyond NGC 253, a handful of which are marked on the enlargement below – there are many more:
The VST – Super survey telescope
This latest image of NGC 253 was taken during VST’s science verification phase of the European Southern Observatory’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST), when the telescope’s scientific performance is assessed before it enters operations.
The VST data are being combined with infrared images from another telescope called VISTA to identify the younger generations of stars in NGC 253.
This picture is more than 12,000 pixels across and the superb sky conditions at ESO’s Paranal Observatory, combined with the fine telescope optics, result in sharp star images over the entire image.
The VST is a 2.6-metre-diameter, wide-field survey telescope with a one-degree field of view — which means it can see an area of sky twice as broad as the full Moon.
The 268-megapixel camera OmegaCAM at its heart is designed to map the sky both quickly and with very fine image quality. VST is the largest telescope in the world designed to exclusively survey the sky in visible light, complementing ESO’s VISTA infrared survey telescope, also located at Paranal.
The VST programme is a joint venture between the INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy and ESO.
Adapted from information issued by ESO / INAF-VST. Acknowledgement: A. Grado/L. Limatola/INAF-Capodimonte Observatory.
Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz
Like this story? Please share or recommend it…