The War and Peace Nebula explodes with violent star creation

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has released a gorgeous new picture of the War and Peace Nebula, or what the cool kids call NGC 6357. It's located 8,000 lightyears away in the constellation of Scorpius. By using the ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have been able to look at the detail of the nebula's outer parts for the very first time.

A wider and higher-resolution version of the top image can be found here.

Astronomers gave it the name "War and Peace" because the western part of the nebula resembled a dove, while the other half looked like a skull.

The new image shows a river of dust streaming across the center that absorbs the light from more distant objects. At the right side of the picture is a small cluster of brilliant blue-white young stars that have formed from the congealing gas. These baby stars are only about a few million years old. The intense ultraviolet radiation from these new stars is hollowing out a cavity in the surrounding gas and dust, sculpting it in strange and beautiful ways.

And be sure to check out the bottom right corner which features a dusty column similar to the famous "pillar of creation" in the Eagle Nebula.

Image courtesy ESO.