Astronomers are calling it "God's Hand."
An incredible image, released Wednesday by the European Space Agency, depicts a faint nebula — cometary globule CG4 — located about 1300 light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Puppis.
"The exact nature of CG4 remains a mystery," the ESA said in a statement, which noted that the photo is also sometimes referred to as "The Mouth of the Beast."
The head of CG4, which is the part visible on this image and resembles the head of the gigantic beast, has a diameter of 1.5 light-years. The tail of the globule — which extends downwards and is not visible in the image — is about eight light-years long. By astronomical standards this makes it a comparatively small cloud.
The head part of CG4 is a thick cloud of gas and dust, which is only visible because it is illuminated by the light from nearby stars. The radiation emitted by these stars is gradually destroying the head of the globule and eroding away the tiny particles that scatter the starlight. However, the dusty cloud of CG4 still contains enough gas to make several Sun-sized stars and indeed, CG4 is actively forming new stars, perhaps triggered as radiation from the stars powering the Gum Nebula reached CG4.
The image is part of the ESO Cosmic Gems program which aims to produce images of "interesting" or "visually attractive" objects using telescopes.
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