Known to astronomers as NGC 6357, the nebula is located more than 8,000 light-years from Earth. NGC 6357 is homed to the Pismis-24 star cluster, once thought to the single most massive star. It was later discovered that three massive stars were responsible for the illusion.
“One of the bright young stars in NGC 6357, known as Pismis 24-1, was thought to be the most massive star known — until it was found to actually be made up of at least three huge bright stars, each with a mass of under 100 times that of our sun,” the international space agency said in a statement released Wednesday. “Even so, these stars are still heavyweights — some of the most massive in our Milky Way. Pismis 24-1 is the brightest object in the Pismis 24 star cluster, a bunch of stars that are all thought to have formed at the same time within NGC 6357.”
The image could provide astronomers with a large amount of data on how young stars grow and evolve in the universe. The image is the first to view the nebula through the prism of infrared, which penetrates much of the dust that cloaks the nebula. Infrared can capture a number of features often invisible to optical telescopes. The image itself is a stunning example of coordination among the world’s leading space agencies. The pair of telescops reportedly produced visible-light images of various parts of this region. The images captured were then compared to new infrared image, providing astronomers with an unprecedented view of the nebula.
The latest image is part of a much large project dubbed VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea (VVV), an attempt to survey large portions of the Milky Way galaxy. The telescope, the largest ever built, is allowing astronomers to view the universe as never before. Earlier this year, the telescope produced one of the most detailed images of the Milky Way. The staggering 9-gigapixel picture contained data on nearly 80 million stars and 173 million different objects in the galaxy, ESO officials said at the time.