Nestled in a dark and often neglected corner of the Orion constellation ("The Hunter"), the cosmic bathe is aglow with a wealth of emerging stars. Scientifically known as NGC 1788, this striking nebula hangs around 2,000 light-years away from Earth and is often referred to by astronomers as a hidden treasure.
Located just a few degrees away from the bright stars of Orion's belt, the cosmic bat ball slides away from the sight in the midst of the glitter of such dazzling stars. Although its "lazy wings" and opaque dust clouds may be hidden from the naked eye, being too weak and far away to be seen without a telescope, the bald nebula has revealed its secrets to the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
This cosmic pearl was recently depicted by the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in what ESO has described as "the most detailed portrait" of the cosmic bat ball to date. The amazing picture was released by the observatory earlier this week and shows the cosmic bat nests as it has never been seen before.
This enigmatic structure has revealed its mysteries to the sharp eye of the VLT's FORS2 spectrography – one of ESO's most versatile instruments that can greatly depict large areas of the sky. In the breathtaking image captured on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the spectrograph, it appears that the cosmic bat nebula takes flight and reveals its soft colors and beautifully structured clouds of gas and dust.
This is not the first time that ESO has observed the cosmic baton sphere. This formidable structure was previously depicted in 2010 by the 2.2-meter telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile. However, the new image shows the fluttered nebula more clearly than it has ever been seen before. The VLT has managed to capture minute details of the nebula's dusty wings, showing them "frozen in flight."
The interesting thing about this nebula is that it does not emit light, but rather a cluster of bright stars found deep within its core. This qualifies it as a reflection nebula explained by ESO in 2010.
"NGC 1788 is a reflection nebula whose gas and dust scattered the light from a small cluster of young stars in such a way that the fog-shaped glow forms a shape reminiscent of a gigantic bat spreading its wings."
The cosmic bat nebula is home to extremely young stars that only existed for about a million years. By comparison, the sun is 4.5 billion years old.
This fascinating nebula owes its striking bat-like silhouette to the bright stars nearby. According to ESO, the nebula's characteristic clouds of gas and dust were carved by streams of burning plasma from nearby stars.
"Although this ghost nebula in Orion seems to be isolated from other cosmic objects, astronomers believe it was shaped by powerful star winds from the massive stars beyond that."