Spooky shadows emerge against a glittering sea of stars (image)

two dark splotches against purple-red starry sky
Two spooky shadows lurk in a glittering sea of stars. This image is a smaller section of the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud, or Messier 24. (Image credit: ESO/VPHAS+ team. Acknowledgement: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit)

The Small Sagittarius Star Cloud has nurseries filled with goblins. 

That sounds like an "Addams Family" plotline. But it's the result of murky clouds of dust that block starlight from farther away. In a new image from the European Space Observatory (ESO), dense star-making regions produce haunting shadows in space in the constellation Sagittarius.

Astronomers call them dark, or absorption, nebulas. Two prominent ghoul-shaped regions in an ESO image published Sept. 12 don't emit light, so we can't see them directly with visible light observations. But these tightly-packed stardust clumps reveal themselves by leaving outlines against the brighter stellar population behind them. According to NASA, dark nebulas are sometimes called "holes in the sky."

Related: James Webb Space Telescope snaps mind-boggling image of Tarantula Nebula

Just because these nebulas are dark doesn't mean they're dim: stars could be forming inside their dense clouds, but obscured from view.  

The two clouds are called Barnard 92 (right) and Barnard 93 (left). They are "creating these hazy ghostlike features" against an area "so rich in stars that it is clearly visible to the naked eye during dark nights," ESO officials wrote in the image description. 

ESO's VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile took this image. It harnessed the 268 million pixel OmegaCAM camera to conduct the VST Photometric Hα Survey of the Southern Galactic Plane and Bulge (VPHAS+), and this image comes from that work. 

It's a feast for the eyes, but also gives astronomers more information on how stars evolve in the Milky Way. 

Follow Doris Elin Urrutia on Twitter @salazar_elin. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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Doris Elin Urrutia
Contributing Writer

Doris is a science journalist and Space.com contributor. She received a B.A. in Sociology and Communications at Fordham University in New York City. Her first work was published in collaboration with London Mining Network, where her love of science writing was born. Her passion for astronomy started as a kid when she helped her sister build a model solar system in the Bronx. She got her first shot at astronomy writing as a Space.com editorial intern and continues to write about all things cosmic for the website. Doris has also written about microscopic plant life for Scientific American’s website and about whale calls for their print magazine. She has also written about ancient humans for Inverse, with stories ranging from how to recreate Pompeii’s cuisine to how to map the Polynesian expansion through genomics. She currently shares her home with two rabbits. Follow her on twitter at @salazar_elin.