Stunning Image of NGC 3981 Galaxy Revealed


Recently, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) released a stunning image of a far-off galaxy known as NGC 3981. It is a spiral galaxy which is 65 million light-years away from our Earth. The researchers at ESO used a FOcal Reducer/low dispersion Spectrograph 2 (FORS2) to capture this image. FORS2 is a Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory of ESO in Chile.

NGC 3981 Galaxy

The European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) has started an outreach initiative known as Cosmic Gems. The main goal of this initiative is to capture interesting and intriguing high-quality images of the space objects using ESO telescopes. They intend to use these images for mass education and public outreach.

During this programme, they took the image of the NGC 3981 galaxy in May 2018. This galaxy is located in the constellation of Crater which is also known as ‘the Cup’. The ESO image features the bright center of the galaxy along with its spiral arms. Its spiral arms are strewn with vast streams of dust and star-forming regions. The scientists think that the galaxy attained its spiral structure due to the gravitational influence of a past collision with another galaxy.

NGC 3981 Galaxy
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Credit: ESO

The NGC 3981 galaxy is inclined towards the Earth. This allows the astronomers to peer right into the heart of the galaxy and observe its bright center. The center of the galaxy is a highly energetic region as it contains a supermassive black hole. It also depicts a prominent disc of hot young stars.

It also features:

The image of the galaxy also features several foreground stars from our Milky Way galaxy. There are three lines near the top center of the image. These red, blue, and green lines show the movement of a rogue asteroid as it streaks across the sky.

The NGC 3981 galaxy lies so far in the South that it never rises more than 18° above the horizon. This means it is hardly visible. Due to this reason, ESO used state-of-the-art VLT telescope to capture the images of the galaxy. This telescope is one of the most advanced optical instruments ever built. It consists of four smaller ‘unit’ telescopes to capture far-off objects like NGC 3981. Its first unit was used in 1999 to capture detailed images of space.

The galaxy has many galactic neighbors. It is a part of the NGC 4038 group which also consists of the well-known Antennae Galaxies interacting in a group. This group consists of a larger Crater Cloud which is itself a smaller component of the Virgo Supercluster. The supercluster is itself a titanic collection of galaxies that host our Milky Way galaxy.

ESO makes sure that this activity doesn’t get in the way of any other research going on. For this purpose, it simply waits till the telescopes aren’t working on their usual scientific research. This can be the time when the telescopes are simply sitting idle or when the sky is cloudy.


The ESO organization generally archives all of its data that is obtained during this programme. So that the scientists could use them further for their research purpose. However, if the image of NGC 3981 galaxy never serves for any scientific purpose, people can still use it as a pretty cool-looking desktop background.


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