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Very Large Telescope spots the Cosmic Bat

By Brooks Hays
Scientists estimate the Cosmic Bat's wings were shaped by the stellar winds of stars situated beyond the nebula. Photo by ESO
Scientists estimate the Cosmic Bat's wings were shaped by the stellar winds of stars situated beyond the nebula. Photo by ESO

March 14 (UPI) -- The Very Large Telescope has spotted Orion's bat signal, the Cosmic Bat. VLT photographed the shadowy nebula as part of the European Southern Observatory's Cosmic Gems program.

The Cosmic Bat -- formally, NGC 1788 -- is a dusty nebula found in the Orion constellation. It is too dim to be spotted with the naked eye, but VLT is powerful enough to offer a detailed view.

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The nebula doesn't emit much light, but its clouds of gas and dust reflect a collection of young stars within its core. The nebula's own stellar population isn't substantial, which is why its bat-like wings of gas and dust are unusual.

The stars at its core aren't big or powerful enough to explain the Cosmic Bat's contorted appearance, and the nebula is isolated in space, far from other members of Orion. Astronomers estimate the Cosmic Bat's unique structure was shaped by the strong stellar winds of distant stars.

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To image the nebula, scientists used the FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph 2, or FORS2, a versatile instrument mounted on Antu, one VLT's telescopes. Astronomers with ESO refer to FORS2 as the "Swiss army knife of instruments."

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FORS2 is essential to ESO's Cosmic Gems program, an effort to photograph "interesting, intriguing or visually attractive objects" throughout the universe.

"The program makes use of telescope time that cannot be used for science observations, and -- with the help of FORS2 -- produces breathtaking images of some of the most striking objects in the night sky," according to ESO.

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The ESO is a 16-nation intergovernmental research organization that operates both VLT and Atacama Large Millimeter Array, or ALMA. Both observatories are located in Chile.

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