The European Southern Observatory’s “Cosmic Gems” programme is an ongoing initiative to collect astronomical images of educational interest and public outreach, showcasing the institution’s powerful telescopes during periods when they cannot be used for science observations. This composite image, captured by the Very Large Telescope’s FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph, or FORS, instrument shows a patch of sky in the Crux, or Southern Cross, constellation, a particularly bright section of the Milky Way packed with stars. The use of filters brings out spectacular blues and reds.
A team of astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope has captured the most detailed images ever of the hypergiant star VY Canis Majoris. These observations show how the unexpectedly large size of the particles of dust surrounding the star enable it to lose an enormous amount of mass as it begins to die. This process, understood now for the first time, is necessary to prepare such gigantic stars to meet explosive demises as supernovae.