A brand new image from the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope reveals the Lambda Centauri Nebula, a cloud of glowing hydrogen and newborn stars in the constellation of Centaurus. The nebula is also known as IC 2944. But it also has one of the most unique nicknames of any other nebula: The Running Chicken Nebula. Can you see a chicken shape in pictures of this red star-forming region? There is some disagreement over exactly which part of the nebula is chicken shaped, with various bird-like features showing up across the picture.
The Running Chicken lies around 6,500 light-years from Earth, and hot newborn stars that formed from clouds of hydrogen gas shine brightly with ultraviolet light. This intense radiation in turn excites the surrounding hydrogen cloud, making it glow a distinctive shade of red.
The other features in this image that stand are the opaque black clumps silhouetted against the red background in part of this image. These are examples of a type of object called Bok globules. They appear dark as they absorb the light from the luminous background. However, observations of these dark clouds using infrared telescopes, which are able to see through the dust that normally blocks visible light, have revealed that stars are forming within many of them.
ESO is having a contest on their Flickr page where you can submit your views of where the chicken outline lies on this, and in participating, you can win some prizes from ESO.