Space Butterfly! Stunning images of a rare cosmic event captured by the ESO

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August 4, 2020 5:08 PM

FORS has contributed in several ways, including observing light from a gravitational wave source. It has also been used in the in-depth study of the physics that led to the formation of complex planetary nebulae.

The image was captured under the Cosmic Gems programme by the ESO.The image was captured under the Cosmic Gems programme by the ESO. (Image: ESO)

Space Butterfly: ESO has captured a beautiful space butterfly! Last week, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announced in a statement that its Very Large Telescope (VLT) had captured a stunning and rare celestial event. In the statement, the ESO said that its VLT captured a gas bubble, known as the NGC 2899, which resembled a flying butterfly with its symmetrical structure, stunning colours and intricate patterns. According to the ESO, the NGC 2899 has never been clicked in such detail ever before, since this time, even faint outer edges of the nebula seemed to be glowing against a backdrop of stars.

ESO’s Space Butterfly: About nebula NGC 2899

NGC 2899 is a nebula in which the gas is extending to a distance of maximum two light years from its centre. Its gas, the ESO said, reaches temperature upwards of 10,000 degrees, due to the radiation from the planet star of the nebula. This large amount of radiation causes the nebula’s oxygen gas to glow in a blue colour, encased within a reddish halo of the hydrogen gas, all the while glowing brightly against a background of stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

NGC 2899 is 3,000 to 6,500 light years away from the Earth and is located in the Southern constellation of Vela or The Sails. It has two central stars, which the astronomers believe is the reason for its almost symmetrical appearance. The ESO stated that after one of the central stars ended, and gave way to the nebula’s outer layers, the remaining star was interfering with the flow of the gas, creating a two-lobed shape. As per ESO, only about 10% to 20% of the nebulae has this kind of “bipolar” shape.

How was the Space Butterfly captured?

The ESO explained how the capturing of the stunning phenomenon occurred. This detailed stunning image was captured by the astronomers using the FORS instrument fitted on UT1 or Antu, which is an 8.2 metre telescope – one of the four that make up the ESO’s VLT established in Chile. FORS stands for Focal Reducer and Low Dispersion Spectrograph, and it is one of the first high resolution instruments installed on the VLT. It has resulted in the capturing of several beautiful images and discoveries made by the ESO.

The image was captured under the Cosmic Gems programme by the ESO. This programme aims to create images which capture intriguing, visually attractive or interesting space objects, with the objective of education and public outreach. In order to ensure that the programme does not interfere with scientific discovery, the initiative is carried out using the ESO telescope when it cannot be used for scientific purposes. Moreover, all the data that is collected by the telescope during the initiative is also saved in an archive so that if needed, it can be used for scientific purposes also.

FORS has contributed in several ways, including observing light from a gravitational wave source. It has also been used in the in-depth study of the physics that led to the formation of complex planetary nebulae, and was also used in the research of the first known interstellar android.

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