A new telescope designed to map the stars in unprecedented detail has delivered astonishing images in its trial run, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) said on Wednesday.
The VLT Survey Telescope, or VST, has been built on a mountain top in northern Chile's Atacama Desert, benefitting from viewing conditions in one of the driest and least light-polluted places on Earth.
It is the largest telescope of its kind in the world, able to capture in visible light a field of view that is twice as broad as the full Moon.
Photos released by the 15-nation ESO included a spectacular star-breeding region in the constellation of Sagittarius known as the Omega Nebula or the Swan Nebula.
There was also a portrait of Omega Centauri, a wide stellar cluster which seethes with clouds of dust, hot gases and young stars.
A single shot of Omega Centauri captured around 300,000 stars in extraordinary resolution, ESO said in a press release.
The VST comprises a 15-million-euro ($22-million), 2.6-metre (104-inch) telescope, "active optics" to correct for distortion as starlight passes through Earth's atmosphere and a 268-megapixel camera.
It is located at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) facility at the Paranal observatory in Chile.
Over the next five years, the new telescope is scheduled to make three surveys of the sky, searching for new galaxies and looking for insights into the mysterious substances known as dark matter and dark energy. Images will be placed in the public domain for use by astronomers around the world.
The VST will work hand in hand with VISTA, a survey telescope at Paranal that looks at infra-red sources of energy.