Image Credit: ESO
The Cat’s Paw Nebula (NGC 6334) is an emission nebula of about 50 light-years across, located some 5,500 light-years away in the constellation of Scorpius, while crawling toward us at approximately 1.6 kilometer per second. The nebula resembles a huge paw print in the sky, hence it’s nickname.
This vast region of star formation is one of the most active nurseries of massive stars in our galaxy, where numerous bright blue stars, nearly ten times the mass of our Sun, have been born in the past few million years. The complex region of gas and dust is also home to many baby stars that are buried deep in the dust. In total, the Cat’s Paw Nebula could contain several tens of thousands of stars.
Particularly striking is the red, intricate bubble in the lower right part of the image. This is most likely either a star expelling large amount of matter at high speed as it nears the end of its life or the remnant of a star that already has exploded.
The Cat’s Paw Nebula is very close to the equator of our Milky Way galaxy, and is seen through thick dusty clouds. The dust both scatters and absorbs blue light along our line of sight, giving this nebula a deep red hue. This color originates predominantly from an abundance of hydrogen gas, glowing under the intense glare of hot young stars.
This image of NGC 6334 was created from images taken with the Wide Field Imager instrument at the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, combining images taken through blue, green and red filters, as well as a special filter designed to let through the light of glowing hydrogen.