Illustration for article titled Behold the terrifyingly named Clownface Nebula

In 1797, legendary astronomer William Herschel first caught sight of this object and declared it "a very remarkable phenomenon." Although it's sometimes called the Clownface Nebula, it's probably better known as the Eskimo Nebula, because it resembles (however vaguely) a person's face inside a parka hood.


Located about 3,000 light-years away, it only measures about a third of a light-year across. It's what's known as a planetary nebula, the remnant of the gas ejected by a dying star. This particular image is drawn from two earlier photos taken in different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, which creates a view far more detailed and complex than any we could hope to see with our puny eyes, what with not being able to see anything unless it's in the visible spectrum (the clue really is in the name). Here's some more from NASA:

In 2000, the Hubble Space Telescope imaged the Eskimo Nebula in visible light, while the nebula was imaged in X-rays by the Chandra X-ray Observatory in 2007. The above combined visible-X ray image, with X-rays emitted by central hot gas and shown in pink, was released last week. From space, the nebula displays gas clouds so complex they are not fully understood. The Eskimo Nebula is clearly a planetary nebula, and the gas seen above composed the outer layers of a Sun-like star only 10,000 years ago. The inner filaments visible above are being ejected by strong wind of particles from the central star. The outer disk contains unusual light-year long orange filaments.


For more on this image and others like it, check out NASA's Astronomy Photo of the Day.

Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/IAA-CSIC/N. Ruiz et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI

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