The night sky is filled with all sorts of magical creatures – two centaurs, a dragon, a hydra, a pegasus, a unicorn, a sea serpent, and much more.
In addition to the classical and modern constellations, many of which are tied to the rich mythic tradition of ancient Greece and Rome, the sky holds incalculable wonders, including deep sky objects, such as distant galaxies, star clusters, and nebuluae – interstellar clouds of dust, hydrogen, helium, and other ionized gases.
Much like constellations, astronomers give these deep sky objects representational names based on what they look like. Popular names include “the Sombrero Galaxy,” “the Horse Head Nebula,” “the Flame Nebula,” and “the Cat’s Eye Nebula.”
Among them is “the Ghost Head Nebula,” a star-forming region located 168,000 light years from Earth. The nebula gets its name because of two extremely bright blobs of hydrogen and oxygen that resemble two glowing eyes. These regions, collectively known as “the eyes of the ghost,” are surrounded by a dimmer globe of gas and dust, creating the appearance of two eyes set in a great round head.
The stars within the two bright regions are very young – less than 10,000 years old. By comparison, our own Sun is around 4.5 billion years old. The Ghost Head Nebula is part of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy to our own Milky Way. It can be found in the night sky within the constellation Dorado.
Unfortunately for North American sky watchers, Dorado is strictly a Southern Hemisphere constellation. It can only be seen in its entirety south of 13° North Latitude, where El Salvador and Aruba lie.
So, if you want to see a ghost this Halloween, you’ll need a telescope and, unless you live “down under” the Equator (or near it), a plane ticket.