It is not a pencil. It is not a celestial quidditch broom. It is a beautiful nebula formed 11,000 years ago after the violent death of a star.
Astronomers at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile managed to capture a mysteriously shaped cloud known as Pencil Nebula (NGC 2736) against a Van Gogh-like starry sky. Nicknamed Herschel’s Ray, NGC 2736 is a supernova remnant in the southern constellation of Vela.
Supernova remnants are the result of a violent star explosion, and the Pencil Nebula is part of the wreckage left by one of these explosions 11,000 years ago. The filaments in rich red and bluish hues gave astronomers the opportunity to map the nebula’s temperature.
Measuring 0.75 light-years across and moving at 650,000 kilometres per hour, the nebula has such colourations because some of its parts are still extremely hot and therefore dominated by ionised oxygen atoms, which give off a blue tone; the cooler regions, which have a reddish glow,indicate that hydrogen is being emitted.