It took more than 200 years to find out, but a globular cluster discovered in 1778 by comet-hunter Charles Messier turned out to be the first such star swarm located outside the Milky Way. As astronomers discovered in 1994, the cluster, known as M54 in Messier’s famous catalogue, is actually located some 90,000 light years away in the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy, about three times farther than Earth is from the center of the Milky Way. But if you wait a while – a very long while – M54 will become part of Earth’s galaxy as the Sagittarius dwarf slowly merges with the larger body. This photograph of M54 was taken in 2011 by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.
In this new image of the nebula Messier 78, young stars cast a bluish pall over their surroundings, while red fledgling stars peer out from their cocoons of cosmic dust. ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) sees near-infrared light, which passes right through dust, permitting astronomers to probe deep into the heart of the stellar environment.