‘Smiling cat’ nebula blazes with newborn stars and hot, ionised gas

Fifteen thousand light years away in the constellation Monoceros, a stellar nursery known as Sh2-284 blazes with the fiery glow of young stars blasting out strong winds and torrents of radiation. The radiation is enough to ionise hydrogen gas in a 150-lightyear-wide nebula, producing billowing bright orange and red clouds that vaguely resemble the face of a smiling cat as seen from Earth. This spectacular image was captured by the VLT Survey Telescope at Paranal Observatory in Chile. The VST is mapping the southern sky with a 256-million-pixel camera optimised for wide-field images.

The “smiling cat” nebula, formally Sh2-284. Image: ESO/VPHAS+ team. Acknowledgement: CASU