Astrophotographer captures the Running Chicken Nebula in impeccable detail

This stunning view of the Running Chicken Nebula, IC 2944, took astrophotographer Rod Prazeres over 42 hours to capture, his longest project yet.

"The Running Chicken Nebula was quite a challenge to image with such a little scope", Prazeres told in an email. But Prazeres' perseverance paid off, with him capturing the stellar nursery in exquisite detail.

"This active stellar nursery, not just a visual spectacle but also a site of complex cosmic phenomena, is easily identifiable by its unique avian shape, which has captured the imagination of astronomers and stargazers alike" Prazeres continued. 

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The Running Chicken Nebula is located in the constellation Centaurus (the Centaur) approximately 6,500 light-years from Earth and and visible only in the Southern Hemisphere. 

The vast stellar nursery contains many young stars, all of which emit intense radiation causing the surrounding hydrogen gas to glow in beautiful shades of red. The Running Chicken Nebula is comprised of several regions, each captured in great detail in this image. 

"My favourite part of the nebula lies just below λ Centauri, where a nebulous formation presents itself with a mesmerizing blend of colours and shapes," said Prazeres. "This area, rich in ionized gases and scattered starlight, offers a breathtaking view that highlights the artistic beauty inherent in the cosmos."

Prazeres' favourite part of the Running Chicken Nebula is visible at the center of the wide view image. (Image credit: Rod Prazeres Astrophotography)

The brightest region of the nebula is called IC 2948. It contains dark clumps of opaque clouds known as Bok globules, named after the Dutch-American astronomer Bart Bok, who drew attention to them in the 1940s. This particular set of Bok globules is known as Thackeray's Globules, after their discoverer David Thackeray. Bok globules are key targets for studying the early stages of star formation. 

The dark fragments within this nebula scene are known as Bok globules. This close-up view is a scene seen in the upper left center portion of the wide-view image. (Image credit: Rod Prazeres Astrophotography)

While larger Bok globules in calmer conditions can collapse and form new stars, the Thackeray's Globules imaged here are being bombarded with ultraviolet radiation from nearby stars causing them to erode and fragment. They will be destroyed before they get a chance to collapse and form new stars. 

Also captured in this Running Chicken Nebula image is NGC 3766, an open star cluster.

Open star cluster NGC 3766 is visible to the right of the center of the Running Chicken Nebula image.  (Image credit: Rod Prazeres Astrophotography)

"Known for its tightly packed stars, NGC 3766 provides a stunning contrast to the diffuse nebulosity surrounding it, showcasing the diversity of astronomical objects in this region," Prazeres said. 

In the top left corner of the image is the filamentary shell G296.2-2.8, with faint thread-like structures reaching out across the cosmos. 

The Filamentary Shell G296.2-2.8 was captured in the top left of Running Chicken Nebula wide view image.  (Image credit: Rod Prazeres Astrophotography)

Prazeres also captured planetary nebula PK294-00.1 with its distinct circular, symmetrical appearance. "It provides a unique visual contrast to the chaotic formations of the surrounding nebulae", Prazeres continued. 

Intriguing planetary nebula PK294-00.1 is located in the center of the wide-view image, just to the upper right.  (Image credit: Rod Prazeres Astrophotography)

You can find more information about the equipment used and acquisition details in Prazeres' image entry on AstroBin.

Equipment used:

Camera:  ZWO ASI174MM Mini  and ZWO ASI2600MM Pro 

Telescope: William Optics RedCat 51 II

Mount: Sky-Watcher NEQ6-Pro

Inspired and are thinking about purchasing some new kit? Our guides to the best telescopes and best binoculars are a great place to start. Our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography, as well as our Astrophotography for beginners guides, will also help you choose the right gear to capture your next stunning space photo. 

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Daisy Dobrijevic
Reference Editor

Daisy Dobrijevic joined in February 2022 having previously worked for our sister publication All About Space magazine as a staff writer. Before joining us, Daisy completed an editorial internship with the BBC Sky at Night Magazine and worked at the National Space Centre in Leicester, U.K., where she enjoyed communicating space science to the public. In 2021, Daisy completed a PhD in plant physiology and also holds a Master's in Environmental Science, she is currently based in Nottingham, U.K. Daisy is passionate about all things space, with a penchant for solar activity and space weather. She has a strong interest in astrotourism and loves nothing more than a good northern lights chase!