Hiding deep inside the Gum Nebula, some 1,300 light-years from Earth, are a collection of strange objects that look like comets. But they certainly aren't comets - they're small nebulous globules of gas and dust and their exact nature remains a bit of a mystery.
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In this stunning new observation by the ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) a ‘cometary globule,' called CG4, shows off its intricate detail and its dusty ‘mouth' can be seen. Usually appearing dark, the faint reflected light off CG4 is only visible due to the VLT's extremely sensitive optics.
Compared with the surrounding nebula, CG4 is very small, but in reality, its dimensions would dwarf the solar system. The head of the globule is 1.5 light-years across and its faint tail stretches 8 light-years long. CG4, and other cometary globules nearby, generally point away from the Vela supernova remnant in the center of the Gum Nebula (which is nearly 1,000 light-years wide).
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Although the nature and origin of cometary globules is not entirely clear, it appears that CG4 owes its dramatic shape to nearby young massive stars whose radiation is eroding away the thick dusty material, sweeping it back. Inside this globule, young stars are forming and astronomers estimate that several suns-worth of matter is contained within.
For more detail about CG4 and high-resolution images, browse the ESO press release.