M78 isn't really
hiding in planet Earth's night sky.
About 1,600 light-years away and
nestled in the nebula rich
the large, bright, reflection nebula
is well-known to telescopic skygazers.
But this gorgeous image of M78 was
selected as the winner of the
Treasures 2010 astrophotography competition.
Held by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the competition
challenged amateur astronomers to process data from ESO's astronomical
archive in search of hidden cosmic gems.
The winning entry
shows off amazing details within
bluish M78 (center)
embraced in dark, dusty clouds, along with a smaller reflection
nebula in the region, NGC 2071 (top).
Yellowish and even more compact, the recently discovered,
variable McNeil's Nebula
is prominent in the scene below and right of center.
Based on data from ESO's WFI camera and 2.2 meter telescope at
Chile, this image spans just over 0.5 degrees on the sky.
That corresponds to 15 light-years at the estimated distance of