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Witch Head Nebula

31 Oct 2018, 19:44 UTC
Witch Head Nebula
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Pareidolia—it’s a phenomenon most of us experience at some point but is fortunately not as nefarious as its name sounds. It simply describes the human tendency to recognize familiar patterns or meanings where they don’t actually exist. It’s why some people see Mickey Mouse in the clouds or President Lincoln on a piece of toast. In the night sky, pareidolia triggered a certain Flagstaff astronomer to perceive waterways on Mars, while other people see a man on the Moon, a bear among the stars, and a variety of other familiar outlines in the stars and nebulae spread across the universe. Iconic celebrations like Halloween lend themselves to their share of examples, including ghost heads, black cats, and pumpkins. One of the more captivating of these is the Witch Head Nebula, an eerie cloud of cosmic dust that strongly resembles a witch in profile.
Formally identified in astronomy circles by the catalog designation IC 2118, the Witch head is not visible to the unaided eye. It wouldn’t even be visible through a telescope if not for reflected starlight, similar to how the Moon is visible from Earth because of reflected sunlight. Astronomers classify the Witch Head as a reflection nebula—a cloud ...

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