The European Southern Observatory has amalgamated images from its La Silla observatory in Chile to produce the best pictures yet of the Cat’s Paw Nebula.
The Cat’s Paw Nebula – or NGC 6334 – lies about 5,500 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Scorpio, and is about 50 light-years across.
It’s one of the most active ‘star nurseries’ of large stars in the galaxy, and was discovered by British astronomer John Herschel in 1837. It contains tens of thousands of stars.
The Cat’s Paw Nebula covers an area on the sky slightly larger than the full moon. Its red light comes predominantly from hydrogen gas glowing in the heat from young stars.
The image was created from images taken with the Wide Field Imager (WFI) instrument at the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at La Silla. It combines images taken through blue, green and red filters, as well as a special filter designed to let through the light of glowing hydrogen.
A red, intricate bubble in the image is probably either a star expelling a large amount of matter at high speed as it nears the end of its life, or the remnant of a star that has already exploded.