The strange Cone Nebula points to a gorgeous cosmic vista

Located about 2,700 light-years from Earth, the Cone Nebula is one of the seemingly countless stellar objects discovered by William Herschel. You can see it on the far left of this image, a bizarrely geometric structure pointing towards the beautiful array of swirling gases and bright stars.

This particular image comes from the Subaru Telescope, the main telescope of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan housed in Hawaii's Mauna Kea Observatory. The Cone Nebula itself measures about 7 light-years long, just under twice the distance from here to the nearest star system. The dust-choked nebula is likely blocking a significant amount of light from the emission nebula positioned behind it, although, as this image shows, there's still tons to see. Let's go to NASA for more:

The unusual shapes originate from fine interstellar dust reacting in complex ways with the energetic light and hot gas being expelled by the young stars. The brightest star on the right of the above picture is S Mon, while the region just below it has been nicknamed the Fox Fur Nebula for its color and structure. The blue glow directly surrounding S Mon results from reflection, where neighboring dust reflects light from the bright star. The red glow that encompasses the whole region results not only from dust reflection but also emission from hydrogen gas ionized by starlight.

For more images like this, check out NASA's Astronomy Photo of the Day. Also, go here for a much, much higher resolution look at the amazing original image.