New ‘monstrous’ view of the Cone Nebula


A spectacular new image of a star factory, the Cone Nebula, taken with the Very Large Telescope (VLT), commemorates 60 years of ESO (European Southern Observatory).

In its center you see the seven light-year-sized pillar that shapes this nebula, which is part of the star-forming region NGC 2264 and was discovered in the late 18th century by astronomer William Herschel. In the sky, this horn-shaped nebula lies in the constellation of Monoceros (the unicorn), a surprisingly appropriate name.

Located less than 2,500 light-years away, the Cone Nebula is relatively close to Earth, making it a well-studied object. “But this view is more spectacular than any seen before, showing the nebula’s dark, impenetrable, murky appearance in a way that reminds us of a mythological or monstrous creature“, as explained by the ESO it’s a statement.

The Cone Nebula is a perfect example of the pillar-like structures that develop in the giant clouds of cold molecular gas and dust known to create new stars. This type of pillar arises when newly formed massive bright blue stars emit stellar winds. and intense ultraviolet radiation that expels material from its vicinity.

As this material moves away, gas and dust farther from the young stars are compressed into tall, dense, dark pillar-like structures. This process helps create the dark Cone Nebula, pointing away from the bright stars of NGC 2264.

In this image, obtained with the FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph 2 (FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph 2) instrument installed on ESO’s VLT in Chile, hydrogen gas is shown in blue and sulfur gas in red. Using these filters makes bright blue stars, which indicate recent star formation, appear almost golden, standing out against the dark cone like flares.

On October 5, 1962, five countries signed the agreement to create ESO. Now, six decades later and with the support of 16 Member States and strategic partners, ESO brings together scientific and engineering staff from around the world to develop and operate advanced ground-based observatories in Chile for groundbreaking astronomical discoveries.