At just 163,000 light years away, the Large Magellanic Cloud is a glittering landmark in the southern sky, among the Milky Way’s closest neighbours and an ideal target for astronomers studying galaxy formation. The European Southern Observatory’s wide-field VISTA telescope has been monitoring the LMC and its smaller sibling, the aptly named Small Magellanic Cloud, for more than a decade, using the telescope’s near-infrared vision to peer through intervening gas and dust to map out stars populating the centre of the galaxy. VISTA – the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile – is a 4.1-metre (13.45-foot) telescope that is equivalent to a 67-megapixel camera with a 13,000-mm f/3.25 mirror. The camera weighs three tonnes and features 16 infrared detectors. The telescope has allowed astronomers to analyse about 10 million stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud and determine their ages, along with the dwarf galaxy’s three-dimensional structure and faint spiral-like features.
Spectacular new observations of vast pillar-like structures within the Carina Nebula have been made using the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. The different pillars analysed by an international team seem to be pillars of destruction — in contrast to the name of the iconic Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula, which are of similar nature.
Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope, an international team of astronomers have found the hottest and most massive double star with components so close that they touch each other. The two stars in the extreme system VFTS 352 could be heading for a dramatic end, during which the two stars either coalesce to create a single giant star, or form a binary black hole.
Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer astronomers have constructed the most detailed image ever of a star — the red supergiant star Antares. They have also made the first map of the velocities of material in the atmosphere of a star other than the Sun, revealing unexpected turbulence in Antares’s huge extended atmosphere.