Today the European Southern Observatory (ESO) released two stunning pictures of galaxies to celebrate "100 Hours of Astronomy," part of the International Year of Astronomy 2009.
The images belong to the Sculptor group of galaxies, and were created by two of ESO's observatories in Chile: La Silla and Paranal, in the north of the country, according to a statement provided by the institution.
In an ambitious event called "Around the World in 80 Telescopes" a unique live 24-hour broadcast follows day and night around the world with some of the most advanced observatories on and off the planet.
"To provide a lasting memory of this impressive international tour, observatories around the world are revealing stunning astronomical photographs that have never been seen before,” according to a statement released today.
The first image represents the irregular galaxy NGC 55, a member of the prominent Sculptor group of galaxies in the southern constellation Sculptor.
The galaxy is approximately 70,000 light years in diameter, making it a little smaller than our Milky Way.
"In reality NGC 55 is more like our galactic neighbor, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), except LMC faces us while we see NGC 55 edge-on," the document explained.
In studying about 20 planetary nebulae (the last blooms of stars like the Sun before they become white dwarfs) in this photo, a team of astronomers found that NGC 55 is located 7.5 million light years away.
They also found that NGC 55 may be forming a bound pair with the spiral galaxy NGC 300.
This remarkable photograph of NGC 55, obtained with the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at La Silla, is sprinkled with a burst of reddish nebulae created by hot, young, massive stars.
The second picture shows another galaxy belonging to the Sculptor group.
This galaxy, NGC 7793, which is "a chaotic spiral structure," is different from highly-organized spiral galaxies like our Milky Way.
This set of stars is located slightly farther away than NGC 55, about 12.5 million light years away from Earth, and is about half the size of NGC 55.
It was observed with the FORS instrument installed at the Very Large Telescope array at ESO's Paranal Observatory.
ESO is the main intergovernmental astronomical organization in Europe. It is supported by 14 countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
It operates three unique, world class observational sites in the region of the Atacama Desert in Chile, the driest area in the world: La Silla, Paranal, and Chajnantor.