A new image from the European southern Observatory’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) telescope reveals the glowing clouds of gas and filaments of dust surrounding hot young stars in the stellar nursery known as NGC 6357. Infrared observations like this can reveal features that cannot be seen in visible-light pictures, in this case because infrared radiation can penetrate much of the covering of dust that shrouds the object.
Located around 8000 light years away in the constellation of Scorpius , NGC 6357 (sometimes called the Lobster Nebula ) is a typical stellar nursery, filled with vast clouds of gas and tendrils of dark dust. Clouds like these are where stars are formed. Many of these new stars are gigantic hot stars which blaze a brilliant blue-white. One such bright young star in NGC 6357, known as Pismis 24-1, was thought to be the most massive star known but has turned out to be at least three huge bright stars, each with a mass approaching 100 times that of our Sun. Even so, these stars are still extraordinarily large, in fact they are still some of the most massive in our galaxy.
This beautiful image was taken as part of a VISTA survey that is currently charting the central bulge and some of the plane of the Milky Way in an effort to map our galaxy’s structure and explain its formation.
(Article by Colin Johnston, Science Communicator)