The Seagull Nebula, on the border between Canis Major and Monoceros some 3,700 light years away, resembles a great bird in flight with a wingspan stretching 100 light years from tip to tip. That description is an example of pareidolia, the human tendency to find familiar patterns in random or ambiguous shapes. In this case, the “seagull” is a vast collection of clouds made up of dust, hydrogen, helium and trace amounts of heavier elements, a stellar nursery providing the raw materials for new generations of stars. This stunning image from the European Southern Observatory’s VLT Survey Telescope shows the Seagull Nebula in remarkable detail, from ionised gas and dark dust lanes in Sharpless 2-296, the “wings” of the seagull, to the compact cloud forming its head where a piercing eye – a 20-solar-mass extremely luminous star – brilliantly shines.
A newly formed star lights up the surrounding cosmic clouds in this new image from ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. Dust particles in the vast clouds that surround the young T-tauri star HD 97300 diffuse its light, like a car headlight in enveloping fog, and create the reflection nebula IC 2631.
An international team of astronomers has used the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) to detect glowing oxygen in a distant galaxy seen just 700 million years after the Big Bang. This is the most distant galaxy in which oxygen has ever been unambiguously detected, and it is most likely being ionised by powerful radiation from young giant stars.