New Nebula Photo: Image Shows Portion Of The 'Running Chicken Nebula' In Constellation Centaurus

By Ben Wolford on April 16, 2014 4:18 PM EDT

This is one of the best photos yet of the elusive nebula known as Gum 41, located in the constellation Centaurus. (Photo: ESO)

This is one of the best photos yet of the elusive nebula known as Gum 41, located in the constellation Centaurus. (Photo: ESO)

The European Southern Observatory released this new picture Wednesday, one of the best yet of a hard-to-see nebula called Gum 41. (Not Wrigley — the astronomer who first saw it in 1955 was Colin Gum.) It is but a small portion of a larger nebula structure that's been nicknamed the Running Chicken Nebula.

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Let's get to the important questions:

Why is it called the Running Chicken Nebula?

The Running Chicken Nebula, officially designated IC 2944, is a haze of glowing hydrogen around an open star cluster about 6,500 light years away, located in the constellation Centaurus. It is red because that's the color hydrogen makes when it's being blasted with radiation from nearby stars. It is not red because of Angry Birds, although the comparison has been made. People say it looks like an angry running chicken when viewed from Earth. You would be forgiven if you didn't see it.

This is the Running Chicken Nebula. (Photo: ESO)
This is the Running Chicken Nebula. (Photo: ESO)

What part of the Running Chicken is Gum 41?

The feet.

How far away is the new picture of Gum 41?

Gum 41 is 7,300 light years from Earth. To put that in perspective, it takes the sun's light a little over eight minutes to reach us 93 million miles away. Even so, that's pretty close in universal terms; lately, scientists have been spotting galaxies more than 13 billion light years away.

Why is Gum 41 "hard to see"?

According to ESO, "This new portrait of Gum 41 [is] likely one of the best so far of this elusive object." Even though it looks bright and soupy in the photo, part of that is because technology has improved and scientists have gotten better at filtering the images. In reality, the Gum 41 nebula is quite faint. If you were standing inside it, you'd have no idea. "This helps to explain why this large object had to wait until the mid-20th century to be discovered — its light is spread very thinly and the red glow cannot be well seen visually," ESO says.

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