Looking like something out of a Tim Burton movie, the eerie shapes seen above are part of a cloud of gas and dust located 1,200 light-years away in the constellation Cepheus. First identified in 1966, the human-like figures with “arms” raised give the nebula its spooky nickname: the “Ghost Nebula”.
Officially titled vdB 141 (or Sh2-136) the entire reflection nebula is over 2 light-years across — or about half the distance from the Sun to the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri (where it’s recently been announced that there be a planet!)
The nearby stars around the nebula give it its light and color. Like fog around a street lamp, a reflection nebula shines only because the light from these embedded stars illuminate its dust; the Ghost Nebula does not emit any visible light of its own.
Image credit: T.A. Rector/University of Alaska Anchorage, H. Schweiker/WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF