The nebula, glowing and surrounded by a vast array of stars, looks like the profile of a giant human face.
It is an amazing find and one that is stunning to behold. Set in an area called NGC 3324, where newborn stars fire off ultraviolet radiation that set the neighboring gaseous clouds alight, the massive nebula truly resembles the contours of a human forehead, nose, and even what appears to be an open mouth. Stellar winds -- akin to our Sun's solar wind -- and radiation have opened up surrounding space to allow the gases to take on the familiar shape.
According to Space.com, the formation was photographed using the Wide Field Imager on the telescope at La Silla Observatory (operated by the European Southern Observatory) in Chile's Atacama Desert. ESO officials noted that the nebula is sometimes referred to as the Gabriela Mistral nebula, named for the the Nobel Prize-winning poet from Chile.
According to a statement issued by the ESO, the Gabriela Mistral nebula is located at the edge of the Carina constellation (known as The Keel, which is part of Jason's ship, the Argo). NGC 3324 is located some 7,500 light years from Earth.
But a human face nebula is not the only photographed object from space that has been found to display human-like qualities.
An eerie blue hand reaching for a field of red light was the subject of one image released in 2009. The shape was the result of the light emitted from a 1,700-year-old pulsar located about 17,000 light years from Earth. NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory captured the image which spans 150 light years.
Another planetary nebula produced a massive skull shape against the backdrop of space in the constellation Cetus. Called, appropriately enough, the Skull Nebula, the nebula is designated as NGC 246 and was released by the Gemini Observatory in 2006. Located about 1,600 light years away, it stretches around a central star that is moving through space at 50 miles per second.
In 2003, a startling human eye-resembling nebula was discovered by NASA's Hubble telescope. Technically known as NGC 7293, it is formally called the Helix Nebula and resides in the Aquarius constellation about 650 light years away. It is the result of the fluorescence of a dying star and measures approximately 2.5 light years across. Interestingly, the image has also been used, according to the urban myth debunking website Snopes.com, as part of a "miracle worker" email that inaccurately describes the photo as that of the "Eye of God."
The giant human face is just the latest of interstellar images photographed that have impressed upon their discoverers their resemblance to things pertaining to humans. Seeing familiar objects, even those that resemble humans or anatomical parts, in the heavens has been going on since mankind's formative years, when explorers and dreamers first gave the shapes of series of stars familiar names like Orion The Hunter.
(photo credit: NASA, ESA, and C.R. O'Dell (Vanderbilt University), Wikimedia Commons)