A nebula called “The Flame” and another called “The Horeshead.” The center of the Milky Way galaxy. A curious circle around a red giant star. A merging of three galaxies called the “Tinkerbell Triplet."
These are all real interplanetary events, occurrences captured in stunning photos by the European Southern Observatory, an intergovernmental astronomy organization with 15 participating countries from Austria to the United Kingdom. The ESO pulled together its top 100 images, and we’ve compiled them in the slideshow above.
It’s hard to put one of these images above another. They’re all pretty great, but a few stand out. The spiral galaxy, for example. In this image, a yellowish-orange light emanates from the center. As the light spirals outward, the color changes to pinkish-red, then purple, then finally blue. The outer edges fade into the blackness of the surrounding space. The galaxy in the picture — which is three exposures in ultra-violet, blue and red light — is called NGC 1232, and it’s located 100 million light years away.
Another dazzler is VISTA’s look at the Helix Nebula. VISTA is ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy, considered one of the world’s most powerful survey telescopes. Helix Nebula is 700 light years away. But even without knowing those details, the image is captivating, staring at the viewer like a giant eye protruding from space.
And how could we not mention the one where lighting and laser beam intersect? “With purely coincidental timing this photograph was snapped just as lightning flashed, resulting in a breathtaking image that looks like a scene from a science fiction movie,” ESO reports. “Although the storm was still far from the observatory, the lightning appears to clash with the laser beam in the sky.”
The ESO has been around since the early 1960s. It’s headquartered in Germany but runs three observing sites in different parts of Chile. While it already operates the VLT, otherwise known as the Very Large Telescope, the organization is working on one called the European Extremely Large Telescope, which will be nearly 140 feet at completion. Who knows what views of outer space that could bring? For now, simply enjoy the view of that which lies beyond what we can see with our naked eye.
Below, images from the European Space Agency render Earth as art.
Uluru/Ayers Rock in the Australian outback is featured in this image from the Kompsat-2 satellite. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s Kompsat-2 satellite acquired this image on Sept. 15, 2011. (KARI/ESA)