See the elements as colors in the galaxy where stars are born
From Hubble to the James Webb Space Telescope, when you think of tools that capture images from space, some of the first examples that come to mind are probably space telescopes. These telescopes have the advantage of being above water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere, which can skew readings and allows them to observe the universe in great detail. But ground-based telescopes also have advantages, such as the ability to build much larger structures and to more easily upgrade these telescopes with new instruments.
One such ground-based telescope is the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory (ESO). As its name suggests, it is indeed very large, consisting of four separate telescopes each of which has an 8.2-meter (27-foot) primary mirror and which work together to look at space in visible light and lengths infrared waves. On the telescope named Yepun is an instrument called MUSE, or the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE), which uses technology called adaptive optics to collect high-resolution data about areas of space.
ESO recently shared this image taken by the MUSE instrument, showing the stunning spiral galaxy NGC 4303. This image represents spectroscopy data that has been colorized to show different elements that are present, collected as part of the Physics at high angular resolution in nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS project). This galaxy is a type called a starburst galaxy, which means it is a site of vigorous star formation, and studying it can help us understand how stars are born.
“Stars form when clouds of cold gas collapse,” explains the ESO. “Energetic radiation from newly born stars will heat and ionize the surrounding remaining gas. The ionized gas will glow, acting as a beacon of continued star formation. In this stunning, jewel-like image, this glowing gas can be seen as the whirlwind of gold: the direct traces of stars being born.
“The golden glow is the result of combining observations taken at different wavelengths of light with the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. Here, ionized oxygen, hydrogen, and sulfur gas clouds are shown in blue, green, and red, respectively.