A stunning new image captured by the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) shows, in intricate detail, a “cometary globule” named CG4, located nearly 1,300 light-years from Earth in the Gum Nebula. Contrary to what their name suggests, cometary globules have nothing in common with comets and are, in fact, small nebulous globules of gas and dust whose exact nature still remains a mystery.
The image, released on Wednesday by ESO, shows the head of CG4, also referred to as “God’s Hand,” while the tail, which is about eight light-years long and points away from the remnants of the Vela supernova located at the centre of the Gum Nebula, is not visible.
“The head of CG4, which is the part visible on this image and resembles the head of the gigantic beast, has a diameter of 1.5 light-years,” ESO said, in a statement accompanying the photograph. Compared to the size of the Nebula, which is 1,000 light-years across, the globule is extremely small. However, its size is comparable to that of our solar system, which is just over 1.8 light-years in size.
“The head part of CG4 is a thick cloud of gas and dust, which is only visible because it is illuminated by the light from nearby stars. The radiation emitted by these stars is gradually destroying the head of the globule and eroding away the tiny particles that scatter the starlight,” ESO said, in the statement. “However, the dusty cloud of CG4 still contains enough gas to make several Sun-sized stars.”
ESO is an intergovernmental research organization, supported by 16 European countries. It operates the VLT, which consists of four individual telescopes operating at visible and infrared wavelengths, located in the Atacama desert in northern Chile.