Tens of thousands of light-years away, “an ominous hollow face” stares back at Earth with terrifying, glaring eyes. This menacing sight has come to be known as the Skull and Crossbones Nebula — an amalgam of swirling dust and gas clouds that looks suspiciously like a grinning skull.
To top it all off, the nebula sports two bright star clusters — Haffner 18 and Haffner 19 — that seem to peer in Earth’s direction like burning eyes on a skeletal face. Therefore, there’s little wonder as to why the nebula inspired such a fearful nickname.
Scientifically known as NGC 2467, the Skull and Crossbones Nebula is a restless place. Nestled near the Perseus Arm of the Milky Way, the nebula is one of the galaxy’s active star-forming regions — constantly churning new stars out of its glimmering clouds of gas and dust.
The star clusters that make up the nebula are no more than 2-million-years-old — with new stars emerging all the time from this exotic stellar nursery.
As Live Science points out, the Skull and Crossbones Nebula “looks like an awesome skeletal nightmare mask in the sky.”
Meanwhile, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) has dubbed the nebula “the pirate of the southern skies” — and recently unveiled a highly edifying photo to put the point across.
The stunning snapshot was captured by the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in the Atacama Desert of Chile and speaks volumes on the mystifying appeal of this peculiar nebula.
As the ESO explains, NGC 2467 is not actually a single nebula — but rather a group of several star clusters floating in space, each moving at a different speed.
“It is only a fortuitous alignment along the line of sight from the Earth that makes the stars and gas form a humanoid face,” state officials from the observatory.
Released yesterday on the ESO website, the photo was taken by the VLT’s FORS2 instrument — which has the ability to image large swathes of the sky, notes CNET, and has so far yielded an impressive array of memorable snapshots.
One such example is a recent view of the distant spiral galaxy NGC 3981, featured in the Inquisitr last month. Both images are part of ESO’s Cosmic Gems program, an educational and outreach initiative focused on providing the public with fascinating space photos.
While this particular VLT photo of NGC 2467 showcases only the gaping mouth of the skeletal face, earlier images have managed to capture the Skull and Crossbones Nebula in all its glory.
For instance, feast your eyes on the snapshot below — taken in December 2005 by the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope in La Silla and which ESO described as “the cosmic Christmas ghost.”
A notable fact about the nebula is that it is located in the Puppis constellation. Keeping with the nautical theme, the name of this constellation “translates rather unromantically as the poop deck” of a ship, notes observatory officials.
As the ESO points out, the interesting thing about the Puppis constellation is that it once sailed the southern skies as part of an integral celestial ship — the Argo Navis constellation, named after the famous ship of Greek mythology that took Jason and the Argonauts to Colchis to fetch the golden fleece.
“Whilst a heroic figure, Jason is most famous for his theft of the golden fleece, so NGC 2467 rests not only in the midst of a vast celestial ship, but amongst thieves — an appropriate abode for this piratical nebula.”