Seagull Nebula Spreads Cosmic Wings in Amazing Photos

The Seagull Nebula's Head
This image from ESO’s La Silla Observatory shows part of a stellar nursery nicknamed the Seagull Nebula. This cloud of gas, known as Sh 2-292, RCW 2 and Gum 1, seems to form the head of the seagull and glows brightly due to the energetic radiation from a hot young star lurking at its heart. The view was produced by the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope. (Image credit: ESO)

Eye-popping new images from a telescope in Chile reveal a new look at the Seagull Nebula soaring through a cosmic unicorn in the night sky.

The new nebula photos were released today (Feb. 6) by the European Southern Observatory in Chile's Atacama Desert. They show the Seagull Nebula as a wispy set of red glowing clouds amid dark black dust lanes and bright stars.

ESO officials released a stunning video tour of the Seagull Nebula in addition to the new photos.

The Seagull Nebula is located about 3,700 light-years from Earth in one of the outer arms of the Milky Way galaxy. It is perched between the night sky constellations of Monoceros (The Unicorn) and Canis Major (The Great Dog). From wingtip to wingtip, this cosmic seagull has a wingspan of about 100 light-years. [Strange Shapes Seen in Nebulas (Gallery)]

The red hue of the nebula's dust and gas clouds, which make up the Seagull's celestial wings, is a telltale sign of ionized hydrogen gas, ESO scientists said. In fact, most of the Seagull Nebula is made of hydrogen gas, they added.

"Hot new stars form within these clouds and their intense ultraviolet radiation causes the surrounding gas to glow brightly," ESO officials said in an image description.

The Seagull Nebula's bird shape is actually made up of three different celestial objects. The nebula is officialy known as IC 2177, but the three clouds that make up its head and two wings have their own designations.

"These objects are all entries in the Sharpless nebula catalogue, a list of over 300 glowing clouds of gas compiled by American astronomer Stewart Sharpless in the 1950s," ESO officials said.

This wide-field view captures the star formation region of the Seagull Nebula (IC 2177), on the borders of the constellations Monoceros and Canis Major. This view was created from images forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2. (Image credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin)

The new ESO photo is close-up of the Seagull Nebula's captured by La Silla Observatory and shows the cloud making up the bulk of the seagull's head, a cloud known as Sharpless 2-292.

"It shows only a small section of the nebula, a large cloud that is furiously forming hot stars in its interior," ESO officials said. The image is peppered with several bright stars, including a dazzling star that serves as the Seagull's "eye," they added.

The Seagull Nebula is an example of what astronomers call HII region, vast areas of hydrogen gas that are primarily found along the outer arms of spiral galaxies like the Milky Way. HII regions are a clue that active star formation is still going on inside a galaxy, ESO officials said.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of 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's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, 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 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 and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.