With wings spread, a chicken-shape dominates this pink cloud of hydrogen gas and newborn stars in this image from the European Southern Observatory.
Explore the Running Chicken Nebula. What stories or pictures do you see in the patterns of this nebula? Leave a comment below.
Officially the nebula is known as IC 2944 or the Lambda Centauri Nebula. The nebula is a sprawling star-making factory. The nebula is lit by a loose cluster of hot, blue stars. These stars were born just eight million years ago. Radiation from these new stars warms and excites the hydrogen gas of the nebula causing it to glow with a characteristic pink color. These stars are also much more massive than our Sun. Their howling stellar winds and blistering ultraviolet radiation carve out the unique shapes, cavities and pillars we see within the cloud.
Zoom into the dark blobs near the top of the image. These are known as Thackeray Globules. Named after their discoverer AD Thackeray, these little inky blobs of dust are found in areas rich in star formation. Similar to Bok Globules, they may be cocoons where new stars are born. Each of these little clouds is about one light-year across. They contain enough gas and dust to create more than 15 stars the same size as our Sun.
IC 2944 is found relatively close to Earth. Light, traveling at more than 6 trillion miles per year from the direction of the constellation Centaurus, the Centaur, has taken almost 6,000 years to reach our eyes.