Stunning new view of the Carina Nebula shows power of adaptive optics

Both of these images show the Carina Nebula’s western wall as imaged by the Gemini South telescope at Cerro Pachón, Chile. The same filters and identical image processing techniques were used for both, but the remarkably sharp top image was captured by The Gemini South Adaptive Optics imager to counteract atmospheric turbulence. The result was a 10-fold increase in resolution. Image: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA

Want a glimpse of what the James Webb Space Telescope will provide once launched late next year? Check out this ultra-sharp view of the western wall of the Carina Nebula captured by the 8.1-metre Gemini South telescope using a near-infrared adaptive optics system.

The image represents a 10-fold increase in the telescope’s resolution, revealing a wealth of detail in the well-defined edge of the vast nebula, a star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud that is 500 times larger than the Orion Nebula in the northern sky.

While such stellar nurseries are typically shrouded in dust, observing in infrared light allows astronomers to lift that veil as seen in this image captured by a team led by Patrick Hartigan of Rice University using the Gemini South Adaptive Optics imager.

The new image reveals a “wall” of gas and dust glowing in ultraviolet light generated by massive nearby stars, featuring a wealth of detail never seen before. A long sequence of parallel ridges can be seen that may be the result of magnetic fields, a jet can be seen emerging from a recently born star along with an area where segments of the cloud appear to be shearing away in strong stellar winds.

“It is possible that the Sun formed in such an environment,” said Hartigan. “If so, radiation and winds from any nearby massive stars would have affected the masses and atmospheres of the solar system’s outer planets.”