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New image of ‘beautiful’ skull and crossbones nebula revealed

The photograph shows dust, gas and bright young stars gravitationally bound into the form of a grinning skull.

A new image of the cluster of stars making up the “pirate of the southern skies” has been revealed.

The nebula, which resembles a grinning skull and crossbones, is made up of dust, gas and bright young stars.

More formally known as the NGC 2467, it is “as sinister as it is beautiful” according to the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the intergovernmental astronomy organisation.

Area surrounding the stellar cluster NGC 2467, located in the southern constellation of Puppis ("The Stern"). With an age of a few million years at most, it is a very active stellar nursery, where new stars are born continuously from large clouds of dust and gas. The image, looking like a colourful cosmic ghost or a gigantic celestial Mandrill, contains the open clusters Haffner 18 (centre) and Haffner 19 (middle right: it is located inside the smaller pink region — the lower eye of the Mandrill), as well as vast areas of ionised gas. The bright star at the centre of the largest pink region on the bottom of the image is HD 64315, a massive young star that is helping shaping the structure of the whole nebular region. This image is available as a mounted image in the ESOshop. #L

The organisation took the latest picture through a a Very Large Telescope (VLT) as part of an outreach initiative to produce images of interesting, intriguing or visually attractive objects.

It hones in on the gaping mouth of the “skull”, an active star-forming region.

This vivid picture of an active star forming region — NGC 2467, otherwise known as the Skull and Crossbones nebula — is as sinister as it is beautiful. This image of dust, gas and bright young stars, gravitationally bound into the form of a grinning skull, was captured with the FORS instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). Whilst ESO’s telescopes are usually used for the collection of science data, their immense resolving power makes them ideal for capturing images such as this — which are beautiful for their own sake.

The ESO said: “It is only a fortuitous alignment along the line of sight from the Earth that makes the stars and gas form a humanoid face.

“This luminous image might not tell astronomers anything new, but it provides us all with a glimpse into the churning southern skies, bright with wonders invisible to the human eye.”

Design photo

The nebula is part of the Puppis constellation – the birthplace of many stars due to an excess of hydrogen gas.

Design photo