Space chicken nebula caught in stunning detail

The Running Chicken Nebula has been pictured in never-before-seen detail in a 1.5-billion-pixel image captured by the  Very Large Telescope’s (VLT) VLT Survey Telescope (VST) in Chile, operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

The nebula is a stellar nursery. It is home to young stars in the making which emit intense radiation, painting the surrounding hydrogen gas in a pink glow.

Nebulae are interstellar clouds of dust and gas. Many are formed from the remnants of dying stars and are often regions where new stars are born. The James Webb Space Telescope has brought us exquisite new images of the Crab Nebula and Ring Nebula.

Located about 6,500 light-years from Earth in the Centaurus constellation, the Running Chicken Nebula is actually made up of several different regions. The brightest region is called IC 2948. This is where some see the chicken’s head, others its rear end. Honestly, I don’t blame you if you don’t see a chicken at all.

In the centre of the image is the region 2944. It is marked by a bright, vertical structure. Lambda Centauri, a star visible to the naked eye and much closer to us than the nebula itself, is also seen in this part of the picture.

As the young stars in these regions spit out vast amounts of radiation, they carve up the surrounding environment. But some regions, called the Bok globules, withstand the bombardment and can be seen as small, dark pockets of dust and gas dotted around the nebula.

Other regions pictured are Gum 39 and 40 to the upper right, and Gum 41 to the lower right.

The image is a mosaic comprising hundreds of separate frames stitched together.

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