Christmas and the many other winter (in the northern hemisphere) holidays are a time of celebration – and also a time of telescopes trying to one-up each other with the most stunning pictures they can produce. JWST has delivered a breathtaking view of Uranus, and now it’s the turn of the Very Large Telescope (VLT), delivering a mosaic of the Running Chicken Nebula.
Part of the European Southern Observatory, the VLT has snapped hundreds of frames that were carefully stitched in this incredible mosaic. The Running Chicken Nebula is as big as 25 full moons in the sky, so it would not fit into a single exposure. The result is this 1.5-billion-pixel image that details the many regions of the nebula.
Brightest among them is IC 2948, which is the major structure in the nebula, seen by some as the head (tilt your own to see it) or the tail of the running chicken. In the center, there is IC 2944, which is an almost pillar-like vertical structure. Next to it, there’s something unrelated to the nebula: the star Lambda Centauri, visible to the naked eye and much closer to us than the nebula, which is 6,500 light-years away.
There are also structures separated from the main nebula such as Gum 39 and 40, and, to the lower right, Gum 41. If you zoom in on the full image, you can see baby stars just born from the nebula, as well as Bok globules, dark regions of dense gas and dust.
The whole picture is too beautiful for words and an absolute gift to all lovers of space.