These 10 interstellar clouds of gas and dust don't include the Space Coyote from The Simpsons but any of these exquisite outer-space nebulae would still make the ultimate spirit animal.


Crab Nebula

Crab nebula

The Crab Nebula got its name in 1840 when Anglo-Irish astronomer William Parsons drew a sketch of his observation that some said looked like a crab. The nebula is actually a huge explosion that's been expanding since the year 1054, when Chinese astronomers recorded a bright supernova in the constellation we now call Taurus. Neither man nor beast - not even a crab - would want to be anywhere near the center of the nebula where a rapidly spinning, 20-mile-wide neutron star emits torrents of high-energy gamma rays and x-rays. (animal nebula image via Giuseppe Donatiello)     


Owl Nebula

Owl nebula

Hoot mon! The Owl Nebula is a "planetary nebula" located about 2,000 light years away in the constellation Ursa Major. It was discovered by French astronomer Pierre Mechain in 1781 but got its name in 1840 when - yep, ol' William Parsons and his amazing sketch pad did it again! The eerie-looking nebula is estimated to be about 8,000 years old and was created when the dying star at its center blew off its outer layers. (animal nebula image via Dave Halliday)  


Horsehead Nebula

Horsehead nebula

One of the most famous animal nebulae, the Horsehead Nebula differs from most in that it's a dark cloud of dust silhouetted against a brightly glowing background of ionized gas. Located in the constellation Orion and situated about 1,500 light years from Earth, the nebula was discovered by Williamina Fleming, a female Scottish-American astronomer, in 1888. Giddyup! (animal nebula image via Marc Van Norden)          


Ant Nebula

Ant nebula

The Ant Nebula lies roughly 8,000 light years from Earth in the obscure southern hemisphere constellation of Norma. It was discovered in 1922 by American astronomer Donald Howard Menzel, from whom it derives its official designation of MZ 3. The nebula's two lobes give it the outward appearance of a garden-variety ant, and the odd shape may be the result of a double-star interaction at the nebula's center. (animal nebula image via NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center)                 


Running Chicken Nebula

Running Chicken nebula

We just had to include the Running Chicken Nebula because... well, isn't it obvious? Known officially as IC 2944 or the A Centauri Nebula, this reddish hydrogen emission nebula surrounds an open star cluster in the constellation Centaurus, about 6,500 light years away. The nebula is very faint when viewed by the naked eye and was only discovered early in the 20th century via long-exposure photography. Presumably the astronomers were snacking on some KFC while waiting for the film to develop. (animal nebula image via siegi252)           


Eagle Nebula

Eagle nebula

Unlike the Running Chicken Nebula, the Eagle Nebula above actually looks like its namesake. This large and bright hydrogen emission nebula, lit up by the radiation of dozens of young stars nearby, was discovered by French astronomer Jean-Philippe de Chéseaux in 1745. Located 7,000 light years away in the constellation Serpens, the Eagle Nebula has established a modern claim to fame as it's the site of the famous Hubble Space Telescope image dubbed the "Pillars of Creation". (animal nebula image via Marc Van Norden)              


Tarantula Nebula

Tarantula nebula

Arachnophobic folks might feel a tad anxious observing the Tarantula Nebula (aka 30 Doradus), located in the Large Magellanic Cloud satellite galaxy about 160,000 light years away - now that's one big spider! This brilliant stellar nursery was discovered by French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille during a scientific expedition to the Cape of Good Hope in the early 1750s. The Tarantula Nebula is so big and bright, astronomers muse that if it were as close to Earth as the Orion Nebula (1,340-odd light years) it would cast visible shadows at night.(animal nebula image via Marc Van Norden)              


Elephant's Trunk Nebula

Elephant's Trunk nebula

Tilt your head ninety degrees to the left or right to get the full "trunk" effect of the Elephant's Trunk Nebula. Located in the constellation Cepheus about 2,400 light years away from Earth, the nebula is actually the bright edge of a massive cloud of dust and gas illuminated by a hidden triple-star. The nebula is a work-in-progress as strong stellar winds and the formation of new stars continually conspire to change its appearance. (animal nebula image via Giuseppe Donatiello)             


Jellyfish Nebula

Jellyfish nebula

Like the Eagle Nebula, the Jellyfish Nebula instantly evokes its namesake - to human eyes, at least. This nebula is a supernova remnant, however, and astronomers believe its parent star catastrophically exploded sometime between 3,000 and 30,000 years ago. You'll find it in the constellation Gemini, telescopically near the triple-star Eta Geminorum though the latter is much closer to Earth. (animal nebula image via Carsten Frenzi)                 


Cat's Eye Nebula

Cat's Eye nebula

The hauntingly beautiful Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543) is one of the most striking planetary nebulae, boasting a wide range of colors and, of course, a decided resemblance to the eye of a cat. Discovered in 1781 by English astronomer (and classical music composer) Sir William Herschel, the Cat's Eye Nebula can be found in the constellation Draco lying very close to the celestial North Pole. This "cool" interstellar object is actually quite hot - its central star is 10,000 times as luminous as our Sun and roughly 15 times as hot. Niiice kitty! (animal nebula image via Stuart Rankin)  


Share Your Thoughts!