This is known as the Seagull Nebula, for obvious reasons, and thanks to the detail captured here by ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST) the individual astronomical objects that create it are revealed.
The main components are three large clouds of gas, the most distinctive being Sharpless 2-296, which forms the “wings.” Spanning about 100 light-years from one wingtip to the other, it displays glowing material and dark dust lanes weaving amid bright stars.
It is an emission nebula, indicating active formation of new stars, which can be seen peppering this image.
Radiation emanating from these young stars gives the clouds their impressive colours – by ionising the surrounding gas and causing it to glow – and is also the main factor that determines the clouds’ shapes, by exerting pressure on the surrounding material.
The Seagull lies along the border between the constellations of Canis Major (The Great Dog) and Monoceros (The Unicorn), at a distance of about 3,700 light-years in one arm of the Milky Way.