Behold the Pacman Nebula—now with teeth!

Illustration for article titled Behold the Pacman Nebula—now with teeth!

The nebula NGC 281 was first identified over 100 years ago by American astronomer E. E. Barnard, but today, many scientists know this massive cloud of dust and gas not as "NGC 281" but as "The Pacman Nebula," owing to its resemblance to Pac-Man, the iconic dot-scarfing character first featured in Namco's eponymous arcade game.


When viewed through visible-light telescopes, the star-forming cloud appears to be wokkawokkawokka-ing its way through space, as seen in the image of the nebula featured below, captured back in 2007.

Illustration for article titled Behold the Pacman Nebula—now with teeth!

But when NASA scientists took a look at The Pacman Nebula through the eyes of their Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, they observed a series of clouds (invisible to the naked eye) that seem to point toward a cluster of recently formed stars located near the center of the image featured up top (click for full size and hi-res versions).

According to NASA:

Within the cluster there are several very massive stars, many times the mass of the sun. These stars are also very hot and produce large amounts of ultraviolet radiation and blow strong winds. The radiation and winds erode the larger cloud from the inside out, giving it a shell-like appearance.

The process of the erosion of the nebula by the young star cluster is thought to trigger the additional formation of stars. Around the edges of NGC 281 are many long columns pointing toward the central star cluster, giving the appearance of the Pac-man with teeth.

WISE image via NASA; Optical image via NASA



Blinky, Inky, Pinky and Clyde do not approve.