The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has unveiled a breathtaking 1.5-billion-pixel image of the Running Chicken Nebula. Captured by the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO's Paranal site in Chile, this image showcases the celestial beauty of the nebula in unprecedented detail.
The Running Chicken Nebula, nestled within the Centaurus constellation and located approximately 6,500 light-years from Earth, is a sprawling stellar nursery. What makes this nebula particularly captivating is the intense radiation emitted by young stars within it, causing the surrounding hydrogen gas to shimmer with shades of pink.
This colossal image is a mosaic composed of hundreds of meticulously stitched-together frames, each captured through filters that allow different colors of light to pass through. The result is a mesmerizing display of the nebula's vibrant hues and intricate features.
Within this vast celestial canvas, one can identify several regions, with IC 2948 being the most prominent—the "head" or "rear end" of the chicken, depending on one's perspective. Delicate wisps of gas and dust create an otherworldly spectacle, while Lambda Centauri, a naked-eye-visible star much closer to Earth than the nebula, stands at the center.
The Running Chicken Nebula spans an impressive 270 light-years from edge to edge, a distance so vast that it would take an average chicken nearly 21 billion years to cross—far longer than the age of our Universe itself.