Nebulas and Their Earthly Doppelgangers

Meet the newly named Manatee nebula. Officially known as W50, this cloud of gas and dust is the remnant of a supernova explosion that happened 10,000 years ago in the constellation Aquila.

This image, released and renamed by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory on Jan. 19 to coincide with the Florida Manatee Festival, bears witness to the correspondence that heavenly phenomena sometimes have for more familiar things on Earth. Both the NRAO staff and members of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, home to many endangered West Indian manatees, hope to draw attention to the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act with the release. The nebula joins the ranks of other nebulas named for animals, such as the Eagle nebula, Crab nebula, and Horsehead nebula.

But that’s not all. According to a press release from both organizations, manatees have a lot in common with the Manatee nebula, including the fact that:

The cloud is the remnant of a star that is impossible to spot with a common telescope; you need a telescope that can detect the low-energy radio wave light radiated by the nebula’s gases. Manatees can be hard to see in murky shallow waters. Spotters detect their presence by air bubbles and wakes.

The nebula bears arc-like scars carved into it by particles blasted from the jets of the exploded star’s remnant, a black hole, at its center. The scars bring to mind the scars many manatees bear from boat propellers that have gotten too close.

The nebula took more than 10,000 years to assume its manatee-like shape. Manatees also have a long gestation and infancy period – well, at least compared to other earthly creatures. Gestation lasts 12 to 14 months and infancy, two to five years.

Still, that got us thinking: Just how much do all those other nebulas actually resemble their biological namesakes? In this gallery, we take a side-by-side comparison of animal-shaped nebula and their animal doppelgangers. Please let us know which ones are most (or least) deserving of their titles and whether you can think of a better alternative in the comments.

T-Rex Nebula

There is definitely something ominous about the open cluster full of gas and dust, officially called NGC 602. (Or is that just us?) We propose calling it the T-Rex nebula after one of the most fearsome predators to ever live.

Tarantula Nebula

The Tarantula nebula, located in our satellite galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, is a center for star formation. It is so bright that if it were as close as the famous Orion nebula (roughly 1,300 light-years away), it would cast shadows. In a similar vein, tarantulas are freaking awesome.

Ant Nebula

The Ant nebula results from the explosive death of a sun-like star, probably destroying any Earth-like planets in its vicinity. Ant rule planet Earth and we hope they never decide to destroy us.

Cat Eye Nebula

The Cat’s Eye nebula is one of the most complex nebulas around. Scientists have been studying it for hundreds of years and still don’t know exactly how it got its mysterious structure. Any cat owner knows that a cat’s internal thought structures are mysterious, probably impenetrable, and staring at their eyes will get you nowhere.

Bug Nebula

The ethereal Bug nebula is sometimes also called the Butterfly nebula. Its two-lobed structure could be easily comparable to the wings of a magnificent butterfly. Or the fact that it’s the result of a massive dead star could evoke comparisons to a bug on a cosmic windshield.

Eagle Nebula

The spectacular Eagle nebula is a center for star formation, most notoriously in the famous Pillars of Creation image from the Hubble space telescope. Eagles are spectacular birds of prey.

Pelican Nebula

The Pelican nebula is located in the constellation Cygnus, the swan, near the plane of the Milky Way. It looks a bit like an evil pelican. But then again, so do all pelicans.

Horsehead Nebula

Most people have heard of the Horsehead nebula, a dark patch in the constellation Orion. It might be the nebula that most closely resembles its animal namesake, the horse.

Owl Nebula

If you squint hard enough, you can see the owl-like eyes in the Owl nebula, a complex planetary nebula in the constellation Ursa Major. Owls are beautiful and majestic creatures with round faces, just like this nebula.

Red Spider Nebula

The white dwarf at the center of the Red Spider nebula is blowing out a hot wind and its surface temperature might be as high as 500,000 degrees Celsius. Red spiders are actually a species of tiny mite but this spider, which happens to be red, is much hotter.

Stingray Nebula

The Stingray nebula is located 18,000 light-years away in the constellation Ara. Stingrays are located all over the ocean. Watch out: they are fond of the photobomb.

Crab Nebula

The Crab nebula, located in the constellation Taurus the bull, has a spinning pulsar in its center emitting tons of radiation. Crabs do not emit radiation nor are they commonly found near bulls but they are cute, just like the Crab nebula.