Cat’s Paw Nebula

Cat's Paw Nebula -- NGC 6334 (ESO)

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has released this stunning new image of the Cat’s Paw Nebula (NGC 6334), a complex region of gas and dust near the heart of the Milky Way, 5500 light-years away. The vast cloud of gas, more than 50 light-years across, is a nursery where numerous enormous stars are being born.

As the ESO explains, “few objects in the sky have been as well named as the Cat’s Paw Nebula, a glowing gas cloud resembling the gigantic pawprint of a celestial cat out on an errand across the Universe. British astronomer John Herschel first recorded NGC 6334 in 1837 during his stay in South Africa. Despite using one of the largest telescopes in the world at the time, Herschel seems to have only noted the brightest part of the cloud, seen here towards the lower left . . . .

“NGC 6334 is one of the most active nurseries of massive stars in our galaxy and has been extensively studied by astronomers. The nebula conceals freshly minted brilliant blue stars — each nearly ten times the mass of our Sun and born in the last few million years. The region is also home to many baby stars that are buried deep in the dust, making them difficult to study. In total, the Cat’s Paw Nebula could contain several tens of thousands of stars.”

A broader view of the area surrounding the Cat's Paw Nebula (ESO)

A nebulous cat's paw.

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Published in: on January 22, 2010 at 4:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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