Dark energy camera gives a tasty view of a lobster-shaped nebula
The crustacean-esque red nebula lies fittingly in the Scorpius constellation.
At 8,000 light years away from Earth, nebula NGC 6357 (aka the Lobster Nebula) is pretty safe from being drenched with drawn butter and service with a a side of corn on the cob and coleslaw at a New England restaurant.
The Dark Energy Camera (DECam) atop the Víctor M. Blanco Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile captured the stellar image as part of The Dark Energy Survey, a project searching the universe for evidence of dark energy.
Astronomers believe that dark energy is the force accelerating the expansion of the universe. They look for evidence of it in images like this one by studying how distant objects move in space. According to NASA, astronomers know how much dark energy is present in the universe because we know how affects universe’s expansion. Beyond that, it’s a mystery. “It turns out that roughly 68 percent of the universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27 percent. The rest—everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter—adds up to less than 5 percent of the universe,” writes NASA.
The Lobster Nebula fittingly is in the constellation Scorpius. The image released yesterday shows a region about 400 light-years across, with bright young stars scattered across clouds of dust and gas. An open star cluster, or a loose group of very big and young stars is at its center.
Protostars are still wrapped in tight shrouds of gas and dust are some of the brith dots that surround the cluster that will eventually become fully-formed stars. There are also interstellar winds, galactic radiation, and powerful magnetic fields battering the nebula, crushing the gas and dust inside of it into braids and twisting streams.
The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) NOIRLab operates the camera and is a center for “ground-based optical-infrared astronomy, enabling breakthrough discoveries in astrophysics by developing and operating state-of-the-art ground-based observatories and providing data products and services for a diverse and inclusive community.” According to the NOIRLab, DECam is one of the highest-performance wide-field charged-coupled device cameras in the world. It can capture very faint sources of light, deliver 400 to 500 images per night, and recently reached a milestone of 1 million individual exposures.
The images was unveiled during the DECam at 10 years—Looking Back, Looking Forward conference, celebrating a decade of DECam operations. Some of DECam’s other highlights include images of stellar steams that confirm the “melting pot” history of the galaxy and the giant Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein on the outskirts of our Solar System.