The Very Large Telescope (VLT) has imaged the Mouth of the Beast Nebula, in a stunning new image from the European Southern Observatory.
The Mouth of the Beast Nebula, also known as cometary globule CG4, resides 1,300 light years away from our own world.
Cometary globules do not have anything to do with comets, despite the name. They appear as dark objects in space, and stretch just one to two light years across. They are the smallest variety of dark nebula, and the bodies contain masses between two and 100 times that of our Sun. They are a form of bok globule, which are dark, small, and dense nebulae.
Astronomers are uncertain how CG4 was formed. The "face" shown in this image is around 1.5 light years across - less than half the distance between the sun and it's nearest stellar neighbor. This object is also popularly known as "God's Hand."
In the first centuries of astronomy using telescopes, skygazers searching for comets often mistook nebula - clouds of distant gases - for their desired nearer, smaller targets. In the modern age, several objects which resembled comets were spotted in images taken by astronomers using the UK Schmidt Telescope in Australia in 1976.
Each of these dim objects were found in the Gum Nebula, with their tails pointed away from the supernova remnant at the center of the formation, the way tails in true comets in our solar system always point away from the Sun. Because they resembled comets, astronomers called the objects cometary globules.
"Cometary globules, and therefore also CG4, could originally have been spherical nebulae, which were disrupted and acquired their new, unusual form because of the effects of a nearby supernova explosion. Other astronomers suggest, that cometary globules are shaped by stellar winds and ionising radiation from hot, massive OB stars," the European Southern Observatory reported. These massive OB stars emit vast amounts of ultraviolet light, and are short-lived.
Cometary globules are all composed of neutral dust and gas, and are encircled by clouds of warmer, ionized gases. These isolated bodies are difficult to study and analyze, due to their small size and dim nature.
A tail, not seen in the image, extends down from the face, extending for eight light years.
Astronomers studying the mysterious object will examine the data about the material in the formation, including information on mass, temperature, and velocities of regions within the nebula. Analysis of spectral lines from the nebula will reveal the chemical makeup on areas within the object.