Delve into the Milky Way in this 3.3 gigapixel image of clouds of gas and dust
European Southern Observatory zooms in on region of space 7,000 light-years away
The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has photographed a region in our galaxy 7,000 light-years away that is springing to life with new stars.
The highly detailed, three gigapixel image shows three nebulas — giant, pink clouds of gas and dust — lit up by nearby stars.
At the centre of the newly released image is the Eagle Nebula, a region of space made famous by an earlier photo, dubbed Pillars of Creation, which was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.
To the right is a faint nebula known as Sharpless 2-54; to the left, the Omega Nebula.
The many newborn stars in the region make the surrounding gas glow; the pink areas are rich in hydrogen gas, the most abundant gas in the universe.
The image was stitched together using dozens of photographs captured by the VLT Survey Telescope at the ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile and is one of the largest ever released by the multi-governmental astronomical organization.
The ESO provided an even better view with this zoomable image, where you can delve into the heart of the region.
The gas and dust in the nebulas (the word is Latin for "cloud" or "mist") are the building blocks of stars.
Stars form when gas and dust come together in the coldness of space, drawn by gravity. As this occurs, the material at the centre begins to heat up, becoming what astronomers call a protostar.
While this part of the Milky Way is visible from Canada during the summer, in the constellations Serpens and Sagittarius in the southern sky, the nebulas themselves aren't visible without a large telescope.