ESO caught an image of a nebula that looks like a smiling cat

The odd shape is part of the Sh2-284 stellar nursery.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The smiling cat nebula.jpg
The smiling cat nebula.

ESO/VPHAS+ team 

Space is constantly surprising us as our tools capture more and more of its wonder. Recently, the European Southern Observatory (ESO), through data from the VLT Survey Telescope, produced an image of the Sh2-284 nebula that looks like a happy cat.

“This nebula is teeming with young stars, as gas and dust within it clumps together to form new suns. If you take a look at the cloud as a whole, you might be able to make out the face of a cat, smiling down from the sky,” stated a press release from the organization published on Tuesday.

“The Sh2-284 stellar nursery is a vast region of dust and gas and its brightest part, visible in this image, is about 150 light-years (over 1400 trillion kilometers) across. It’s located some 15 000 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Monoceros.”

The good people at ESO went on to describe the many features visible in this new image.

“Nestled in the center of the brightest part of the nebula — right under the ‘cat’s nose’ — is a cluster of young stars known as Dolidze 25, which produces large amounts of strong radiation and winds. The radiation is powerful enough to ionize the hydrogen gas in the cloud, thereby producing its bright orange and red colors. It’s in clouds like this that the building blocks for new stars reside,” they explained.

Mighty winds

“The winds from the central cluster of stars push away the gas and dust in the nebula, hollowing out its center. As the winds encounter denser pockets of material, these offer more resistance meaning that the areas around them are eroded away first. This creates several pillars that can be seen along the edges of Sh2-284 pointing at the center of the nebula, such as the one on the right-hand side of the frame. While these pillars might look small in the image, they are in fact several light-years wide and contain vast amounts of gas and dust out of which new stars form.”

This image is part of the VST Photometric Hα Survey of the Southern Galactic Plane and Bulge (VPHAS+) which has thus far examined some 500 million objects in our home galaxy. 

The VLT Survey Telescope is part of  The National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy, INAF, and is located at ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile. It boasts an impressive 256-million-pixel camera specially designed for taking very wide-field images.

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