Astronomers capture images of strange neighbours in nearby galaxy

Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory in Chile have captured images of what they're calling an 'odd couple', a pair of gas clouds they spotted in a neighbouring galaxy, that although they are right next door to each other, have very different colour schemes.

The two gas clouds, NGC 2020 on the left and NGC 2014 on the right, are located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is a 'satellite galaxy' to our Milky Way, roughly 163,000 light years away. (Btw, NGC is short for 'New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars', which contains a list of 7,840 remarkable astronomical objects.)

To get a true sense of that distance, here's a video the ESO put together, showing a zoom-in from what could be anyone's view on a clear, dark-sky night, to what the Very Large Telescope is able to see with its high-powered vision:

Also, just to emphasize the details, and the contrast between these two clouds, here's a panning view of the two:

The differences between the colours of these clouds is explained on the ESO website:

The pink-tinged cloud on the right, NGC 2014, is a glowing cloud of mostly hydrogen gas. It contains a cluster of hot young stars. The energetic radiation from these new stars strips electrons from the atoms within the surrounding hydrogen gas, ionizing it and producing a characteristic red glow.

In addition to this strong radiation, massive young stars also produce powerful stellar winds that eventually cause the gas around them to disperse and stream away. To the left of the main cluster, a single brilliant and very hot star seems to have started this process, creating a cavity that appears encircled by a bubble-like structure called NGC 2020. The distinctive blueish colour of this rather mysterious object is again created by radiation from the hot star — this time by ionizing oxygen instead of hydrogen.

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The Large Magellanic Cloud's proximity to us (compared to more distant galaxies) makes it an excellent target for astronomers to focus their observations. Apparently, this was one of the main motivations for building the European Southern Observatory and all the telescopes they house there.

You can check out more amazing images (and videos) from the ESO on their website.

(Image and Videos courtesy: ESO)

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