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Delicate Nebula Looks Like a Cosmic Bat

A new photo of a nebula hidden near the constellation Orionreveals gas in the shape of a bat spreading its wings.

Orion?s bright stars emit powerful winds and light that haveshaped the delicate nebula,called NGC 1788. Its chaotic environment has helped it become a stellar nursery— home to a multitude of infant suns.

NGC 1788 is a reflection nebula, where gas and dust scatterlight coming from a small cluster of young stars. The resulting shape isreminiscent of a large bat with wings open wide.

This image, captured by the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at theEuropean Southern Observatory?s La Silla Observatory in Chile, was releasedtoday.

Bright, massive starsin Orion are thought to be responsible for setting the nebula's hydrogengas ablaze in some areas, leading to the red, almost vertical rim visible inthe left half of the image.

Very few of the stars belonging to the nebula are visible inthis image, as most of them are obscured by the dusty cocoons surrounding them.The most prominent, named HD 293815, is the bright star in the upper part ofthe cloud, just above the center of the image and the pronounced dark lane ofdust extending through the nebula.

All the stars in this region are extremely young, with anaverage age of only a million years, a blink of an eye compared to the sun?sage of 4.5 billion years.

The distribution of stars, with generally older ones closerto Orion and younger ones concentrated on the opposite side, suggests that awave of star formation generated around the hot and massive stars in Orion andpropagated throughout NGC 1788 and beyond.

The La Silla Observatory is one of several operated by ESOin Chile, though none were damaged during the powerfulearthquake that struck the South American country last week.

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