ESO Telescope Snaps 268-Megapixel Pic Of The Heavens

The ESO has just released the first images from VLT Survey Telescope, taken with a massive 268-megapixel sensor

ESO pic
ESO pic
VST image of the star-forming region Messier 17ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM. Acknowledgement: OmegaCen/Astro-WISE/Kapteyn Institute

It's been a particularly astronomical week over here at First an image of the devastated wake of the Massachusetts tornado, and then the tale of Nikon gear left to become stardust. On a more positive note, we now have the first images out of the ESO's VLT Survey Telescope, capturing an area of space twice the size of the moon, and they're stunning.

The ESO (European Southern Observatory)'s VLT Survey Telescope (VST) is a 2.6-meter telescope with a 268-megapixel camera OmegaCAM buried inside it, and is located in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, along with the rest of the Paranal Observatory. The VST has a field of view twice as large as a full moon, and is designed to capture visible light exposures at high speed and in great detail.

So, what sort of beast of a sensor do you need to capture images like this? Sealed together in a vacuum are 32 CCD sensors, which are stitched together to grab the 268-megapixel images. The whole camera rig weighs 770kg — not something you can slap on a tripod and take out into a field. The first two images are of two spectacular areas of space.

The first released image [above] shows the spectacular star-forming region Messier 17, also known as the Omega Nebula or the Swan Nebula, as it has never been seen before. This dramatic region of gas, dust and hot young stars lies in the heart of the Milky Way in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer). The VST field of view is so large that the entire nebula, including its fainter outer parts, is captured — and retains its superb sharpness across the entire image. The second released image [below] may be the best portrait of the globular star cluster Omega Centauri ever made. This is the largest globular cluster in the sky, but the very wide field of view of VST and OmegaCAM can encompass even the faint outer regions of this spectacular object. This view, which includes about 300 000 stars, demonstrates the excellent resolution of VST.

The VST is set to take three major surveys of the southern skies over the next five years, producing 30 terabytes of raw data per annum. The planned survey will help us understand dark matter, dark energy, the formation of stellar bodies as well as document hundreds of millions of objects in space.