ESO’s FORS2 instrument captures stunning details of spiral galaxy NGC 3981
Fig. FORS2, an instrument mounted on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, has observed the spiral galaxy NGC 3981 in all its glory. The image was captured as part of the ESO Cosmic Gems Programme, which makes use of the rare occasions when observing conditions are not suitable for gathering scientific data. Instead of sitting idle, the ESO Cosmic Gems Programme allows ESO’s telescopes to be used to capture visually stunning images of the southern skies.
FORS2 is mounted on Unit Telescope 1 (Antu) of the VLTat ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. Amongst the host of cutting-edge instruments mounted on the four Unit Telescopes of the VLT, FORS2 stands apart due to its extreme versatility. This ”Swiss Army knife” of an instrument is able to study a variety of astronomical objects in many different ways — as well as being capable of producing beautiful images like this one.
The sensitive gaze of FORS2 revealed NGC 3981’s spiral arms, strewn with vast streams of dust and star-forming regions, and a prominent disc of hot young stars. The galaxy is inclined towards Earth, allowing astronomers to peer right into the heart of this galaxy and observe its bright centre, a highly energetic region containing a supermassive black hole. Also shown is NGC 3981’s outlying spiral structure, some of which appears to have been stretched outwards from the galaxy, presumably due to the gravitational influence of a past galactic encounter.