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Amazing Gigapixel Image of Small Magellanic Cloud Zooms In on Millions of Galaxies and Stars

May 05, 2017 06:46 AM EDT
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VISTA’s view of the Small Magellanic Cloud
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(Photo : ESO/VISTA VMC)

With the powerful Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope (VISTA), an international team of astronomers were able to capture a record-breaking image of the striking Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) that's the biggest -- not to mention clearest -- ever picture of the nearby dwarf galaxy.

According to a report from ESO, the infrared capabilities of the VISTA telescope makes it possible for astronomers to see SMC clearly through the thick cloud that usually obscures the galaxy. As a result, the audience can zoom in and see a sea of millions of stars. The zoomable image has been shared by ESO.

SMC is the smaller twin of the Large Magellanic Cloud and both are some of the closest galaxy neighbors to Earth. The smaller galaxy is only about 200,000 light-years away.

Despite its distance, astronomers find it difficult to observe SMC because of the massive clouds of interstellar dust that absorb a lot of the visible light from the dwarf galaxy. The phenomenon -- often referred to as dust extinction -- makes it hard for telescopes to catch sight of it.

Infrared light can pierce through the interstellar dust that can't be seen by regular visible light, so the VISTA telescope was able to capture an unparalleled view of SMC that's practically entirely free of all dust extinction.

The stunning 1.6 gigapixel image fills the whole frame with millions and millions of stars and background galaxies.

University of Padova's Stefano Rubele led an international team that used cutting-edge stellar models to analyze the breakthrough image. According to the group, the stars are younger than most of the ones in bigger neighboring galaxies. More information is sure to come up with the further analysis of the two Magellanic galaxies.

The study has been published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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