Since time immemorial humans have looked to the stars and picked out familiar shapes among the shining specks. So it seems only natural that a new shot from the Lambda Centauri nebula would call to mind a familiar image—in this case, a pig-pummeling angry bird. Or a chicken, depending on whom you ask.
In fact, scientists have nicknamed the cloud of gas and newborn stars the Running Chicken nebula. Fittingly, it’s surrounded by Bok globules—those opaque black clumps in the image above. Bok, bok.
The bird roosts some 6,500 light years from Earth in the Lambda Centauri nebula of the Centaurus constellation (the Centaur being the half-horse, half-man creature of Greek mythology). The image, taken from the European Southern Observatory’s MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope, reveals newborn stars that formed from hydrogen gas clouds glowing brightly with ultraviolet light. The intense radiation excites the cloud, making it glow a brilliant red.
Speaking of exciting: Think you can pick out exactly where the chicken outline is? Submit your idea to ESO’s Flickr page “for a chance to win some interesting prizes.” (If an Audubon magazine reader takes the trophy, please, please let us know what it is… we’re quite curious as to what astronomers consider to be “interesting prizes.”)
Now, sit back and enjoy a journey into the Centaurus constellation that ends at the Lambda Centauri nebula in the video below. It’s far out.
Wondering exactly what bird species Angry Birds are? We asked legendary birder and field guide author Kenn Kaufman to identify them. Click here to find out which one looks like a “warbler that fell off of its diet.”