New telescope images show a hand in the sky

The Athletic

What appears to be a ghostly hand reaching across the universe toward a defenseless spiral galaxy in a new telescope image is a rarely seen cosmic phenomenon, according to astronomers.
The Dark Energy Camera captured a stunning image of “God’s Hand,” a cometary globule 1,300 light-years from Earth in the Puppis constellation.
Cometary globules are a type of Bok globule, or dark nebula.
Cometary globules are unique because they have extended tails, like those seen on comets — but that’s the only cometlike thing about them.
Astronomers still don’t know how cometary globules come to exist in such distinctive structures.
The new image of the glowing red hand-like feature showcases CG 4, one of many cometary globules found across the Milky Way galaxy.
A surprising celestial discovery Astronomers first discovered cometary globules by chance in 1976 while looking at images captured by the UK Schmidt Telescope in Australia.
While stellar radiation enables the cometary globule to be visible, it is also destroying the globule’s head over time.

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Astronomers have discovered a seldom observed cosmic phenomenon in a new telescope image: what looks to be a ghostly hand reaching across the universe toward a helpless spiral galaxy.

“God’s Hand,” a cometary globule located in the Puppis constellation 1,300 light-years from Earth, was spectacularly photographed by the Dark Energy Camera. The Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile is where the camera is mounted.

Bok globules, also known as dark nebula, are one kind of cometary globules. These solitary cosmic clouds are encircled by hot, energetic material and contain dense gas and dust. The only feature that makes cometary globules resemble comets is their extended tails. This characteristic makes them distinct from comets.

How cometary globules form in such unique structures is still a mystery to astronomers. Scientists have historically had difficulty identifying the faint clouds.

A number of cometary globules can be found throughout the Milky Way galaxy, including CG 4, which is shown in the new image of the glowing red hand-like feature. ESO 257-19 (PGC 21338) is a spiral galaxy that appears to be in reach of the twirling cloud. However, the cometary globule is located more than 100 million light-years from the galaxy.

CG 4 is a dusty, hand-shaped object with a main head that is 1 point 5 light-years across and an 8 light-year tail. Light travels 5 point88 trillion miles (9 point46 trillion kilometers) in a year, which is measured as one light-year.

An unexpected astronomical finding.

In 1976, while examining photos taken by the UK Schmidt Telescope in Australia, astronomers by accident made the first discovery of cometary globules. Due to their extreme faintness and the fact that stellar dust usually obscures globule tails, these cosmic phenomena are difficult to see.

Yet, the CG 4 head and outer rim contain ionized hydrogen, which gives off an extremely faint red glow that can only be seen with the Dark Energy Camera’s unique filter. Only when hydrogen is exposed to radiation from neighboring hot, massive stars does it emit such a distinctive red glow.

Star radiation makes the cometary globule visible, but it also gradually destroys the globule’s head. Still, there is enough gas and dust in the globule to support the birth of multiple sun-sized stars.

Although cometary globules are found all over our galaxy, the majority are located in the Gum Nebula, a bright cloud of gas thought to be the slowly expanding remnants of a star explosion that occurred about a million years ago. In addition to CG 4, the Gum Nebula is thought to host 31 cometary globules.

The unique, comet-like forms of the globules are thought to have formed in two different ways by astronomers.

It’s possible that the globules were originally round nebulas, like the famous Ring Nebula, that were gradually disturbed by a supernova, possibly even the one that created the Gum Nebula.

The winds and radiation from neighboring hot, massive stars, however, could also be the cause of the cosmic phenomena.

Since the tails of every cometary globule discovered in the Gum Nebula point away from the nebula’s center, astronomers surmise that stars may be the fundamental cause. The supernova remnant and a pulsar, or rapidly spinning neutron star, which were created when a much larger star collapsed and exploded, are located at the center of the nebula.

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