A camera designed to unlock the secrets of dark energy has captured a beautiful, 570-megapixel image of a remote star-forming region dubbed the Lobster Nebula.
The Dark Energy Camera (DECam) located at the Victor M. Blanco Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile is part of a project that is attempting to prove theories on dark energy.
The DECam pictured the region, formally known as NGC 6357, that is 8,000 light-years from Earth. One light-year is 5.8 trillion miles.
Located in the constellation Scorpius, the Lobster Nebula image contains bright dots that are actually small, fledgling stars that are still wrapped in dust and gas that have not fully emerged yet.
These newborn protostars are still wrapped in cocoons of star-forming materials that include dense cores of gas and dust that will eventually become fully-formed stars.
The dark clouds that permeate the nebula are tumultuous interstellar winds, radiation, and powerful magnetic fields that form twisting, complex structures.
Unveiled at the DECam at 10 Years: Looking Back, Looking Forward conference, the photo marks 10 years of the DECam and shows off its image-making capability as well as helping astronomers to study the fundamental properties of the Universe.
To construct the image, the DECam used a new range of narrowband filters that isolated specific wavelengths of light. This information allows the camera to infer the physics of distant objects, including important details about their inner motions, temperatures, and complex chemistry.
For the photograph’s color, the Lobster Nebula was observed multiple times with different filters. Each image captures a specific range of light waves which are then assigned a corresponding color. The images are then stacked on top of one another to create a composite that closely approximates what objects might look like if they were much brighter.
The DECam uses one of the world’s best charged-couple device (CCD) to capture incredibly faint sources of light and is capable of delivering 400 to 500 images per night.
The DECam was designed specifically for the Dark Energy Survey to measure the expansion of the Universe and is a collaboration between research institutions from numerous countries.
Image credits: All photos by CTIO/NOIRLab/DOE/NSF/AURA