Science

The ‘Lobster Nebula’ glows red in stunning new image from a dark energy hunter

A camera designed to decipher the secrets of dark energy has captured a stunning new image that reveals the interior of a distant star-forming region.

The Dark Energy Camera, an instrument mounted on the 13-foot (4-meter) Victor M. Blanco Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, is part of a dark energy research project that aims to find evidence of dark energy, an invisible force that, according to astronomers, accelerates the expansion of the universe.

In search of a mysterious power, the telescope also takes incredible pictures of the universe. A new image released Monday (September 12) captures the Lobster Nebula, a star-forming region about 8,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Scorpius.

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The image shows a region 400 light-years across in which bright young stars are scattered across clouds of dust and gas. At the center of the image is what astronomers call an open star cluster, a loose group of very young and massive stars.

Some of the bright dots surrounding the cluster are so-called protostars, nascent stars still shrouded in thick sheets of dust and gas that are slowly emerging in all their dazzling beauty.

Interstellar winds, galactic radiation and powerful magnetic fields hit the nebula, compressing the gas and dust inside into twisting streams and streamers.

According to the announcement, the Dark Energy Camera is one of the highest performance wide-angle charge-coupled cameras in the world, a type of digital imaging technology that can capture very weak light sources. (will open in a new tab) NOIRLab, which manages the device.

The camera, capable of capturing 400 to 500 images per night, recently hit the milestone of 1 million individual frames. Astronomers are looking for evidence of dark energy in images by studying the movement of distant objects.

To create this particular image, astronomers used special filters that isolate certain wavelengths of light. By observing distant star clusters at these wavelengths, scientists can better understand not only the motions, but also the temperature and chemistry of distant star-forming regions.

The final image is a combination of several exposures taken with different filters that were layered on top of each other to create a photograph in which the Lobster Nebula looks like it would be brighter if viewed with the naked eye.

The image was featured at DECam’s 10 Years: Looking Back, Looking Forward conference held in Tucson, Arizona on Monday (September 12).

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