The Pipe Nebula – or Barnard 59, 65, 66, 67 and 78 – lies in the Ophiuchus constellation between 600-700 light years from us here on Earth. When first observed, astronomers believed that this was just an area absent of stellar activity. Later studies showed that it was actually clouds of gas and dust that are so dense, they prevent any light from passing through it unobstructed.
Normally, all of this material would clump together and, over time, it would build up to the point that enough matter would accumulated for the clouds to collapse, sparking the ignition of a star. But in the case of the Barnard 59 region, there is negligible proto-star formation (relative to other dark nebulae, at least).
This strange and complex structure looks as if it could be a huge arachnid (lots of other nebulae are more convincing), and at a closer inspection, you can see the lighter areas of radiation where stars are just bursting into life.
The nebula is named after Edward Emerson Barnard, a pioneer in discovering over 370 dark nebulae. With his keen eyesight, he was able to make contributions to all different fields during the late 19th and early 20th century. So thanks Ed for helping us find this rather beautiful object!
See a larger image here.