Space photo

Today in Pretty Space Pics: The Carina Nebula, detailed as never before in the infrared spectrum. The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) snapped the above image from its perch at Paranal in Chile, revealing features of Carina’s space-scape that are hidden in the visible spectrum (compare with a submillimeter pic here; the difference is quite noticeable). Even the ESO’s press machine is impressed with this one, calling it “one of the most dramatic images ever created by the VLT.”

Located in the constellation of the same name (Carina, that is), the nebula is roughly 7,500 light years away, making it both quite distant and at the same time one of the closest star nurseries to Earth that produces very massive stars. These stars are some of the heaviest on record and some of the brightest in our sky. And they make for a dazzling display in the infrared, where so many more stars are visible.

But what’s most interesting is what you can’t see, even in the infrared. Infrared light is great for seeing through the cosmic matter that obscures our visible spectrum views of many of the galaxy’s features, but even the VLT can’t see through the really dense pockets of gas and dust. That’s what those small blobs of dark material are–and that’s where new stars are forming.