Amazing Nebula Photo Looks Like a Giant Human Head

Cygnus Loop Nebula
Wispy tendrils of hot dust and gas glow brightly in this ultraviolet image of the Cygnus Loop Nebula, taken by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A spectacular photo from a NASA telescope has revealed a wispy blue nebula with an odd twist: It looks like a giant human head in deep space.

The head-in-space nebula photo was snapped by NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer satellite and shows an ultraviolet view of the so-called Cygnus Loop nebula, which is located 1,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan. It was released March 22 and featured this week on NASA's website.

What makes the new Cygnus Loop image striking is its odd shape. The nebula looks like a giant human head and neck, which appear in profile facing the left of the image. A bright star serves as an eye while wispy nebula gas traces the outline of jaw, and close-cropped hair.

To be clear, the Cygnus Loop nebula head is an optical illusion, one of many caused when observers see familiar patterns in images. Recent examples of space illusions include images of the so-called Fried Egg nebula and Running Chicken nebula.

The Cygnus Loop nebula is all that remains from a colossal star explosion that occurred between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago.

"The filaments of gas and dust visible here in ultraviolet light were heated by the shockwave from the supernova, which is still spreading outward from the original explosion," NASA explained in a photo description. "The original supernova would have been bright enough to be seen clearly from Earth with the naked eye."

The nebula covers an area of the night sky that is more than three times the size of the full moon and is tucked beneath one of the wings of the imaginary swan that makes up the Cygnus constellation.

NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer, which took the Cygnus Loop nebula photo, was launched in April 2003 on a mission to map vast areas of the sky in the ultraviolet range of the light spectrum. The spacecraft completed its primary mission in 2007 and was placed in standby mode as engineers prepare to shut it down for good later this year.

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Tariq Malik
Editor-in-Chief

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award (opens in new tab) for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast (opens in new tab) with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network (opens in new tab). To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik (opens in new tab).