Looking more like a painting than an astronomy photograph, the Omega nebula glows with vivid colors in this new image from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope. This is one of the sharpest and most detailed images of this object ever taken from a ground-based telescope.
The nebula — located around 6,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Sagittarius – is thought to be a hotbed of recent star formation. The cloud of gas and dust spans approximately 15 light-years and is estimated to contain enough material to produce 800 sun-like stars.
The heart of the Omega nebula contains roughly 35 stars, the hottest of which spew out ultraviolet radiation that causes the surrounding hydrogen gas to glow red and pink.
The nebula also seems to collect names the way some people collect butterflies, sometimes being known as the Swan, Horseshoe, Checkmark, or Lobster nebula depending on who observed it and when.
It is believed to be a close neighbor to the Eagle nebula, another star-forming gas-and-dust cloud located a similar distance from Earth in the same spiral arm of the Milky Way. In 1995, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope photographed the heart of the Eagle nebula, producing one of the most iconic astronomical pictures of all time, the Pillars of Creation.