This image of the nearby galaxy NGC 3627 was obtained by combining observations taken with the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which ESO is a partner. NGC 3627 is a spiral galaxy located approximately 31 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Leo. The image is a combination of observations conducted at different wavelengths of light to map stellar populations and gas. ALMA’s observations are represented in brownish-orange tones and highlight the clouds of cold molecular gas that provide the raw material from which stars form. The MUSE data show up mainly in gold and blue. The bright golden glows map warm clouds of mainly ionised hydrogen, oxygen and sulphur gas, marking the presence of newly born stars, while the bluish regions reveal the distribution of slightly older stars. The image was taken as part of the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) project, which is making high-resolution observations of nearby galaxies with telescopes operating across the electromagnetic spectrum.

Galactic fireworks: New images of nearby galaxies

New photos of some stunning nearby galaxies containing new stars have just been released.

A team of astronomers has released new observations of nearby galaxies that resemble colourful cosmic fireworks. The images, obtained with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, show different components of the galaxies in distinct colours, allowing astronomers to pinpoint the locations of young stars and the gas they warm up around them. By combining these new observations with data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the team is helping to shed new light on what triggers gas to form stars.

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“For the first time we are resolving individual units of star formation over a wide range of locations and environments in a sample that well represents the different types of galaxies,” says Eric Emsellem, an astronomer at ESO in Germany and lead of the VLT-based observations conducted as part of the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) project. “We can directly observe the gas that gives birth to stars, we see the young stars themselves, and we witness their evolution through various phases.

Emsellem and his team have now released their latest set of galactic scans, taken with the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument on ESO’s VLT in the Atacama Desert in Chile. They used MUSE to trace newborn stars and the warm gas around them, which is illuminated and heated up by the stars and acts as a smoking gun of ongoing star formation.

In addition to ALMA and MUSE, the PHANGS project also features observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The various observatories were selected to allow the team to scan our galactic neighbours at different wavelengths (visible, near-infrared and radio), with each wavelength range unveiling distinct parts of the observed galaxies.

The work carried out by the PHANGS project will be further honed by upcoming telescopes and instruments, such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. The data obtained in this way will lay further groundwork for observations with ESO’s future Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), which will start operating later this decade and will enable an even more detailed look at the structures of stellar nurseries.

NGC 4303

This image of the nearby galaxy NGC 4303 was obtained by combining observations taken with the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which ESO is a partner. NGC 4303 is a spiral galaxy, with a bar of stars and gas at its centre, located approximately 55 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo. The image is a combination of observations conducted at different wavelengths of light to map stellar populations and gas. ALMA’s observations are represented in brownish-orange tones and highlight the clouds of cold molecular gas that provide the raw material from which stars form. The MUSE data show up mainly in gold and blue. The bright golden glows map warm clouds of mainly ionised hydrogen, oxygen and sulphur gas, marking the presence of newly born stars, while the bluish regions reveal the distribution of slightly older stars. The image was taken as part of the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) project, which is making high-resolution observations of nearby galaxies with telescopes operating across the electromagnetic spectrum.
This image of the nearby galaxy NGC 4303 was obtained by combining observations taken with the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). NGC 4303 is a spiral galaxy, with a bar of stars and gas at its centre, located approximately 55 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo. The bright golden glows map warm clouds of mainly ionised hydrogen, oxygen and sulphur gas, marking the presence of newly born stars, while the bluish regions reveal the distribution of slightly older stars. Photo by ESO/PHANGS

NGC 4254

This image, taken with the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), shows the nearby galaxy NGC 4254. NGC 4254 is a grand-design spiral galaxy located approximately 45 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Coma Berenices. The image is a combination of observations conducted at different wavelengths of light to map stellar populations and warm gas. The golden glows mainly correspond to clouds of ionised hydrogen, oxygen and sulphur gas, marking the presence of newly born stars, while the bluish regions in the background reveal the distribution of slightly older stars. The image was taken as part of the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) project, which is making high-resolution observations of nearby galaxies with telescopes operating across the electromagnetic spectrum.
The Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), imaged this amazing shot of nearby galaxy NGC 4254. This galaxy is a grand-design spiral galaxy located approximately 45 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Coma Berenices. Photo by ESO/PHANGS

NGC 3627

This image of the nearby galaxy NGC 3627 was obtained by combining observations taken with the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which ESO is a partner. NGC 3627 is a spiral galaxy located approximately 31 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Leo. The image is a combination of observations conducted at different wavelengths of light to map stellar populations and gas. ALMA’s observations are represented in brownish-orange tones and highlight the clouds of cold molecular gas that provide the raw material from which stars form. The MUSE data show up mainly in gold and blue. The bright golden glows map warm clouds of mainly ionised hydrogen, oxygen and sulphur gas, marking the presence of newly born stars, while the bluish regions reveal the distribution of slightly older stars. The image was taken as part of the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) project, which is making high-resolution observations of nearby galaxies with telescopes operating across the electromagnetic spectrum.
NGC 3627 is a spiral galaxy located approximately 31 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Leo. Photo by ESO/PHANGS

NGC 1300

This image, taken with the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), shows the nearby galaxy NGC 1300. NGC 1300 is a spiral galaxy, with a bar of stars and gas at its centre, located approximately 61 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Eridanus. The image is a combination of observations conducted at different wavelengths of light to map stellar populations and warm gas. The golden glows mainly correspond to clouds of ionised hydrogen, oxygen and sulphur gas, marking the presence of newly born stars, while the bluish regions in the background reveal the distribution of slightly older stars. The image was taken as part of the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) project, which is making high-resolution observations of nearby galaxies with telescopes operating across the electromagnetic spectrum.
NGC 1300 is a spiral galaxy, with a bar of stars and gas at its centre, located approximately 61 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Eridanus. Photo by ESO/PHANGS

NGC 1087

This image, taken with the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), shows the nearby galaxy NGC 1087. NGC 1087 is a spiral galaxy located approximately 80 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Cetus. The image is a combination of observations conducted at different wavelengths of light to map stellar populations and warm gas. The golden glows mainly correspond to clouds of ionised hydrogen, oxygen and sulphur gas, marking the presence of newly born stars, while the bluish regions in the background reveal the distribution of slightly older stars. The image was taken as part of the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) project, which is making high-resolution observations of nearby galaxies with telescopes operating across the electromagnetic spectrum.
NGC 1087 is a spiral galaxy located approximately 80 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Cetus. Photo by ESO/PHANGS
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For more information on the colourful new observations check out ESO’s short video on the project: