October Object of the month- The Pacman Nebula
NGC 281 is also known as the Pacman Nebula due to its resemblance to the character in the computer game of the same name. It is actually an enormous area of ionizing gases and dust located in the direction of the constellation Cassiopeia. Nebulae such as this are star forming regions and create new stars from the heat, gas and dust. At the centre you can see there is a large star surrounded by others and these have recently been ‘born’. When I say ‘recently’ they are probably just a few hundred million years old. This ‘open’ star cluster is catalogued as NGC 1590 and will disperse as a group within the next few tens of millions of years.
Pillars of Gas and Dust from where stars are born
You can also see columns of material and these are also star forming regions with stars being created eventually at the tips of these huge columns of ionized gases and dust. In addition there are dark areas, in particular the huge dark patch covering the right hand side from the top downwards, these are cooler and contain large amounts of dust. Again these areas are generating new stars.
To place The Pacman it is outside of our solar system of course and inside of our Galaxy, known as the Milky Way. The distance to the Pacman from earth is in the region of 9,200 light years. A light year is the distance travelled by light in a vacuum over the period of one year. In miles this is 5.8 trillion, so The Pacman is 9200 x 5.8 trillion miles. This also means that the light that has created this image you see here left the object on its journey to my camera 9,200 years ago Earth time. What was the Earth like then?
An Example of the Pacman Framed and Backlit
If you would like to see all the options for The Pacman simply click HERE