Infrared imaging shows Trifid Nebula in a new light

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Extract from the VISTA survey of the central parts of our galaxy, displaying the stars ordinarily shrouded behind the Trifid Nebula (Photo: ESO/VVV consortium/D. Minniti)

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The European Southern Observatory's (ESO) VISTA survey telescope has revealed a beautiful new aspect of the Trifid Nebula, a star formation area that sits around 5,200 light years away from Earth, in the direction of the galactic center. By observing and imaging the nebula in infrared light, astronomers can look through the dust-filled, central parts of the Milky Way to expose new objects.

The VISTA telescope, located at the ESO's Paranal Observatory, Chile is currently in the process of mapping vast swathes of the central area of the Milky Way, a region of space ordinarily shrouded in dense clouds of dust particles that obscure the visible wavelengths of light.

However, by using VISTA's infrared imaging capabilities, astronomers can now peer through the clouds and probe the secrets that lie beyond. Whilst the recent image of the Trifid Nebula represents only a tiny fraction of the telescope's survey, they still contain some interesting findings.

Hidden behind an ordinarily impenetrable haze of a dust cloud, astronomers uncovered a stunning field of stars, including two previously unknown categories of Cepheid variable stars, the first of their kind to be discovered in the center of the Milky Way. These rare stars vary in temperature and size, causing them to brighten and dim over a period of roughly eleven days.

Whilst the stars may appear to sit just behind the Trifid Nebula, they are in fact located at the other side of the galaxy, an impressive 37,000 light years away. Hopefully, the secrets obscured behind the iconic nebula are just a taste of the discoveries yet to be made by VISTA.

Source: ESO

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