Manatee-Shaped Nebula Named After Endangered Sea Mammal

The Manatee Nebula, officially called W50, will soon be re-named for its water-dwelling doppelganger. The nebula is the leftovers of a star that died in a supernova about 20,000 years ago.

Before it died, the giant star puffed out its outer gaseous layers. Those layers now swirl around in green and blue clouds around the star’s dead husk.

The husk has since collapsed into a black hole, reports The Manatee Nebula is officially being re-named on Saturday by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). The re-naming will take place during a ceremony at the Florida Manatee Festival in Crystal River, Florida.

NRAO officials wrote in a statement about the latest photo of the nebula:

“When the VLA’s giant W50 image reached the NRAO director’s office, Heidi Winter, the director’s executive assistant, saw the likeness to a manatee, the endangered marine mammals known as ‘sea cows’ that congregate in warm waters in the southeastern United States.”

And thus the new name was born. The Huffington Post notes that the latest image taken by the VLA (Very Large Array) telescope will also be revealed during the festival.

The NRAO collaborated with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to change the nebula’s name to reflect the manatees it so closely resembles. The huge mammals are generally 10 feet long and can weigh more than 1,000 pounds. They propel themselves with flippers and spend their days chewing up sea plants.

The latest photo of the Manatee Nebula shows it in a position that closely mimics one the real sea creature does often. The animal is often seen floating on its back with its flippers crossed over its belly.

The Manatee Nebula is about 18,000 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Aquilla. It now joins the Crab Nebula, Eagle Nebula, and Pelican Nebula on the list of celestial objects named after Earth’s creatures.