The VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile has captured a 16,000-pixel-wide image of the Lagoon Nebula, located around 5,000 light-years from us in the constellation of Sagittarius (the Archer). A zoomable version of the image allows viewers to explore the many nooks and crannies of this fascinating object.

The telescope was not pointed at the Lagoon deliberately, it simply was included as part of one of three imaging surveys covering a much larger region of the Milky Way. The surveys are addressing many important questions in modern astronomy, including the nature of dark energy, searching for brilliant quasars in the early Universe, probing the structure of the Milky Way and looking for unusual and hidden objects.

ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the world's most productive astronomical observatory and is supported by Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

ESO operates three sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world's most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory, and two survey telescopes: VISTA working in infrared and the VLT Survey Telescope, designed to survey the skies in visible light.

In this gallery, we look at some of the most spectacular space images produced by the ESO telescopes in Chile.

lagoon nebula
The VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile has captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. It is located around 5,000 light-years from us in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer).ESO
panorama telescopes
The Milky Way arches across this rare 360-degree panorama of the night sky above the Paranal platform, home of ESO's Very Large Telescope. The image was made from 37 individual frames with a total exposure time of about 30 minutes, taken in the early morning hours. The Moon is just rising and the zodiacal light shines above it, while the Milky Way stretches across the sky opposite the observatory. The open telescope domes of the world's most advanced ground-based astronomical observatory are all visible in the image: the four smaller 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes that can be used together in the interferometric mode, and the four giant 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes. To the right in the image and below the arc of the Milky Way, two of our galactic neighbours, the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds, can be seen.ESO/H.H. Heyer
This intriguing new view of a spectacular stellar nursery IC 2944 was released to celebrate a milestone: 15 years of ESO's Very Large Telescope. This image also shows a group of thick clouds of dust known as the Thackeray globules silhouetted against the pale pink glowing gas of the nebula. These globules are under fierce bombardment from the ultraviolet radiation from nearby hot young stars. They are both being eroded away and also fragmenting, rather like lumps of butter dropped onto a hot frying pan. It is likely that Thackeray's globules will be destroyed before they can collapse and form new stars.ESO
helix nebula
This colour-composite image of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) was created from images obtained using the Wide Field Imager (WFI), an astronomical camera attached to the 2.2-metre Max-Planck Society/ESO telescope at the La Silla observatory in Chile. The blue-green glow in the centre of the Helix comes from oxygen atoms shining under effects of the intense ultraviolet radiation of the 120 000 degree Celsius central star and the hot gas. Further out from the star and beyond the ring of knots, the red colour from hydrogen and nitrogen is more prominent.ESO
horsehead nebula
A composite colour image of the Horsehead Nebula and its immediate surroundings. It is based on three exposures in the visual part of the spectrum with the FORS2 multi-mode instrument at the 8.2-m KUEYEN telescope at Paranal. It was produced from three images, obtained on February 1, 2000.ESO
Colour composite image of Centaurus A, revealing the lobes and jets emanating from the active galaxy's central black hole. Visible light data from the Wide Field Imager (WFI) on the MPG/ESO 2.2 m telescope located at La Silla, Chile, show the stars and the galaxy's characteristic dust lane in close to "true colour".ESO
spiral shell
Observations using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have revealed an unexpected spiral structure in the material around the old star R Sculptoris. This feature has never been seen before and is probably caused by a hidden companion star orbiting the star. This slice through the new ALMA data reveals the shell around the star, which shows up as the outer circular ring, as well as a very clear spiral structure in the inner material.ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/M. Maercker et al
thors helmet nebula
This VLT image of the Thor's Helmet Nebula was taken on the occasion of ESO's 50th Anniversary, 5 October 2012, with the help of Brigitte Bailleul — winner of the 'Tweet Your Way to the VLT' competition. The observations were broadcast live over the internet from the Paranal Observatory in Chile. This object, also known as NGC 2359, lies in the constellation of Canis Major (The Great Dog). The helmet-shaped nebula is around 15 000 light-years away from Earth and is over 30 light-years across. The helmet is a cosmic bubble, blown as the wind from the bright, massive star near the bubble's centre sweeps through the surrounding molecular cloud.ESO/B. Bailleul
christmas nebula
This colour image of the region known as NGC 2264 — an area of sky that includes the sparkling blue baubles of the Christmas Tree star cluster and the Cone Nebula — was created from data taken through four different filters (B, V, R and H-alpha) with the Wide Field Imager at ESO's La Silla Observatory, 2400 m high in the Atacama Desert of Chile. The image shows a region of space about 30 light-years across.ESO
eagle nebula
Three-colour composite mosaic image of the Eagle Nebula (Messier 16, or NGC 6611), based on images obtained with the Wide-Field Imager camera on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory. At the centre, the so-called "Pillars of Creation" can be seen.ESO
panorama milky way
This magnificent 360-degree panoramic image, covering the entire southern and northern celestial sphere, reveals the cosmic landscape that surrounds our tiny blue planet. The plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, which we see edge-on from our perspective on Earth, cuts a luminous swath across the image almost as if we were looking at the Milky Way from the outside.ESO/S. Brunier
carina new
The spectacular star-forming Carina Nebula has been captured in great detail by the VLT Survey Telescope at ESO's Paranal Observatory. This picture was taken with the help of Sebastián Piñera, President of Chile, during his visit to the observatory on 5 June 2012.ESO. Acknowledgement: VPHAS Consortium/Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit
orion nebula
This wide-field view of the Orion Nebula (Messier 42), lying about 1,350 light-years from Earth, was taken with the VISTA infrared survey telescope at ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile. The telescope's huge field of view allows the whole nebula and its surroundings to be imaged in a single picture and its infrared vision also means that it can peer deep into the normally hidden dusty regions and reveal the curious antics of the very active young stars buried there.ESO/J. Emerson/VISTA. Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit
flame nebula
This image, the first to be released publicly from VISTA, the world's largest survey telescope, shows the spectacular star-forming region known as the Flame Nebula, or NGC 2024, in the constellation of Orion (the Hunter) and its surroundings. In views of this object in visible light the core of the nebula is completely hidden behind obscuring dust, but in this VISTA view, taken in infrared light, the cluster of very young stars at the object's heart is revealed. The view also includes the glow of the reflection nebula NGC 2023 and the ghostly outline of the Horsehead Nebula. The bright bluish star at the top left is one of the three bright stars forming the Belt of Orion.ESO/J. Emerson/VISTA. Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit
telescopes milky way
ESO Photo Ambassador Babak Tafreshi snapped this remarkable image of the antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), set against the splendour of the Milky Way. The richness of the sky in this picture attests to the unsurpassed conditions for astronomy on the 5000-metre-high Chajnantor plateau in Chile's Atacama region. This view shows the constellations of Carina (The Keel) and Vela (The Sails). The dark, wispy dust clouds of the Milky Way streak from middle top left to middle bottom right. The bright orange star in the upper left is Suhail in Vela, while the similarly orange star in the upper middle is Avior, in Carina. Of the three bright blue stars that form an "L" near these stars, the left two belong to Vela, and the right one to Carina. And exactly in the centre of the image below these stars gleams the pink glow of the Carina Nebula (eso1208).ESO/B. Tafreshi