Very Large Telescope captures mysterious ‘mouth of the beast’

29 Jan 2015

The 'gaping mouth' of the cometary globule, CG4. Image via ESO

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has captured in stunning new images the menacing cometary globule designated CG4, sometimes referred to as the ‘mouth of the beast’.

With the help of the Very Large Telescope (yes, that is what it’s called), the ESO, as part of its Cosmic Gems programme, recently took a series of photos of the celestial landmark, despite science having little understanding of what it actually is.

According to the ESO’s research, the object is 1,300 light years from Earth in the constellation called Puppis, the word that gave birth to the term ‘poop deck’.

To put the size of ‘the beast’ into perspective, its head is measured at about 1.5 light years in diameter while its tail, not visible in the photographs taken by the telescope, measures at almost 8 light years in length.

A wide-field image showing a rich region of the sky in the constellation Puppis, with CG4 at its centre. Image via ESO and Digitised Sky Survey 2

Incredibly, these mind-bending distances put CG4 as one of the smaller observable space objects discovered by us here on Earth, but is comparable with other cometary globules discovered to date.

The biggest mystery about globules to scientists, however, remains the origins of their distinctive shape. A number of theories have been speculated, including the possibility it may have at one point been a spherical nebula which became distorted after a nearby supernova explosion.

Sadly for amateur astronomers, telescopes of comparable magnification to the Very Large Telescope are the only way to see CG4, because it is one of the faintest nebula in the night sky.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic