This eerie image is of vdB 141, otherwise known as “the Ghost Nebula.” The grasping figures that are stretching out of the dust cloud seem oddly reminiscent of the ghostly terrors that plague people in horror stories. Unsurprisingly, these figures are responsible for giving this structuring its title.
Although they may look frightening, the origin of the shapes is a rather common (and none too terrifying) story. These ghostly apparitions are created by dust that is reflecting the light of several stars that reside within the cloud. The soupy coloring, which looks a little bit like the water from “The Swamp Thing,” is created by the same mechanisms that make our sunsets red and orange. As starlight streams through the fine dust in the cloud, the blues and violets in the stars’ light are scattered away, leaving only the warmer yellows to reach our eyes.
Currently, the structure is just about two light-years across, and it swirls throughout the cosmos some 1,200 light-years from Earth. And as well all know, the universe is constantly shifting and expanding. As such, over the decades, the Ghost Nebula will stretch and shrink as the dust and gas fall together under the force of gravity. Although this process will destroy the chilling figures that we currently see, it will give birth to new stars and (perhaps) new planetary systems. And who knows, maybe that image will be even more spectacular.