A spectacular stellar nursery shines through the gas and dust clouds of the Omega Nebula 5,500 light years from Earth in the heart of the Milky Way.
Dotted with hot young stars, the region is part of the constellation of Sagittarius, the Archer, and is known by other names including the Swan Nebula and Messier 17.
The 2.6-metre aperture telescope, one of the world’s largest, uses adaptive optics to ensure the instrument’s mirrors are always in the perfect position to view the skies. Behind the telescope’s lenses, images are captured by OmegaCAM, a 268-megapixel digital camera that weighs in at 770kg.
The telescope will conduct three surveys over the next five years, producing images that will further research on dark matter, the invisible substance that clings to galaxies; dark energy, which is thought to drive the expansion of the universe; and the evolution of galaxies.
“The combination of large field of view, excellent image quality, and the very efficient operations scheme of the VST will produce an enormous wealth of information that will advance many fields of astrophysics,” said Konrad Kuijken, head of the OmegaCAM consortium.