Astronomers from NOIRLab have captured a stunning photo of the NGC 1566 spiral galaxy at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. The spiral galaxy is colloquially known as the Spanish Dancer due to its beautiful spiral pattern.

To capture the highly detailed new image, astronomers used the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) on the Victor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope. The telescope was commissioned in 1974 and is named in honor of Puerto Rican astronomer Victor Manuel Blanco.

'The DECam focal plane consists of a science array of sixty-two 2048 X 4096 CCDs. Additionally there are four 2048 X 2048 guider CCDs and eight 2048 X 2048 focus and alignment CCDs. The quantum efficiency of these LBNL-designed CCDs with their anti-reflective coating is red optimized to be > 90% at 900 nm and over 60% over the range of 400-1000 nm. The DES CCDs were fabricated by Dalsa with further processing done by LBNL. They were then packaged and tested by Fermilab.'


The onboard DECam, which is funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), has a field of view of 3 square degrees and includes five optical lenses. The camera's imager is a set of 74 state-of-the-art CCDs (charge-coupled devices). The sensors were specially designed by scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) to observe red light from distant galaxies. The CCDs used for the DECam are about 10 times thicker than conventional CCDs. This is because the odds of detecting long-wavelength light increase as light travels through additional silicon.

NGC 1566 is approximately 70 million light years from Earth. It's an intermediate spiral galaxy located in the constellation Dorado. It was first discovered way back in 1826 by Scottish astronomer James Dunlop. A supermassive black hole dominates the center of NGC 1566. The luminous center of the spiral galaxy is active. It's so active, in fact, that the light from its nucleus changes on timescales of hundreds of days, so it's difficult for astronomers to nail down a precise classification of the galaxy.

'This image, taken by astronomers using the US Department of Energy-fabricated Dark Energy Camera on the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, a Program of NSF’s NOIRLab, captures the galaxy NGC 1566 as it twirls, flinging its arms through the vastness of space. Colloquially nicknamed the Spanish Dancer, this spiral galaxy is often studied by astronomers learning about galaxy groups, stars of different ages, and galactic black holes.'

Credits: Dark Energy Survey/DOE/FNAL/DECam/CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA Image processing: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF’s NOIRLab), J. Miller (Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), M. Zamani & D. de Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab)

'NGC 1566 is home to stars at all stages of stellar evolution. In this image, the bright blue color that outlines the arms of the galaxy arises from young, brightly burning stars. Darker spots within these arms are dust lanes. The arms are rich in gas, and form large-scale areas that provide the perfect environment for new stars to form,' writes NOIRLab. Nearer the center of the galaxy, the redder color indicates cooler, older stars and dust.

NGC 1566 and 18 other nearby galaxies will be observed in infrared light by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which is currently in space and being set up for scientific observations.