What would a cosmic Pacman eat? Would it munch its way across the Universe, sucking up stars and planets while attempting to avoid the fate of being swallowed up by a black hole?
Anyone who has ever come across images of NGC 281 may have wondered something similar! Known also as the Pacman Nebula, this celestial object is located about 6,500 lightyears from Earth and bears an uncanny resemblance to the iconic video game character.
NGC 281 is a star cluster containing high-mass stellar specimens that emanate powerful streams of charged particles known as stellar winds into space.
Radiation from these stars causes the surrounding gas to glow, while a large swathe of dark cosmic dust produces a pizza-slice shadow that gives that gives the Pacman Nebula its nickname.
However, the dark dust that forms the Pacman Nebula’s ‘mouth’ is visible in optical light, but not in Spitzer Space Telescope / Chandra X-ray Telescope views of the region, as seen below.
A Spitzer Space Telescope / Chandra X-ray telescope view of NGC 281, the Pacman Nebula. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/S.Wolk; IR: NASA/JPL/CfA/S.Wolk
The Spitzer Space Telescope observed the cosmos in infrared, which is a useful tool for peering through cosmic dust and enabling astronomers to get a closer look at stars embedded deep within a nebula.
Below is a selection of images of the Pacman Nebula captured by astrophotographers and BBC Sky at Night Magazine readers from around the world.
For more info on astrophotography, read our astrophotography guides and discover the best ways to use image processing to fine-tune your astro images.
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The Pacman Nebula by Steve Allen, Sandbach, Cheshire, UK. Equipment: Sky-Watcher ED 120mm Pro refractor with a QHY9 CC camera on an EQ6 Pro mount.
NGC 281 Pacman Nebula by Matt Beavers, Hull, UK. Atik 16hr with astronomik narrowband filters, William Optics Megrez 72, Skywatcher HEQ5, Orion Starshoot guide Cam,home made Finder/guider scope.
Pacman Nebula NGC281 by Tom Richardson, Smethwick, Birmingham, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher ED80 f/7.5. Atik 16ic mono ccd, Baader 7nm Ha filter. Guided.
Pacman Nebula by Lee Housden, Essex, UK Equipment: Celestron CPC 8, Skywatcher ED 80mm Pro, QHY5, Canon 450d modded, clip filter.
NGC281 Pacman nebula in Mono Ha by Tom Richardson, Birmingham, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher ED80 WITH 0.85 focal reducer/corrector, Atik 314E mono ccd with 7nm Baader Ha filter, Skywatcher ST80,Meade DSIc, PHD guiding software.
Pacman Nebula by Tom Howard, Crawley, Sussex, UK. Equipment: Nikon D7000 DSLR through a Meade 5000 127mm refractor, mounted on an EQ6.
NGC 281 Pacman Nebula by Ian Russell, Sutton Courtenay, UK. Equipment: TS90APO, CG-5 Mount, Atik 460ex mono, Atik OAG, QHY IMG0H and PHD
Pacman Nebula by John Maclean, Norman Lockyer Observatory, Sidmouth, Devon, UK. Equipment: Atik 314L and filter wheel, Equinox 80 APO PRO, NEQ6 Pro mount.
NGC281 Pacman Nebula by Stephen Wilson, North Yorkshire, UK. Equipment: ED80 DS Pro imaging scope, ST102 guide scope, Atik 314L+ imaging camera, QHY5 guide camera, Xagyl filter wheel with Astronomik Ha, Baader RGB filters, HEQ5 Pro mount controlled using Carte du Ciel.
Pacman Nebula by Graham Green, Waterlooville, Hampshire, UK. Equipment: Canon EOS 600D DSLR (modded), Officina Stellare 130 APO, Sky-Watcher NEQ6 Pro mount.
NGC281 Pacman Nebula Ha/OIII/OIII by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: GSO 8″ Richey-Chretien Optical tube, 0.67 focal reducer, Skywatcher NEQ6 pro mount, Atik 383L+ camera, motorised filter wheel and Astronomik filters.
NGC281 Pacman Nebula SII/Ha/OIII by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: GSO 8″ Richey-Chretien Optical tube, 0.67 focal reducer, Skywatcher NEQ6 pro mount, Atik 383L+ camera, motorised filter wheel and Astronomik filters.
NGC 281, Pacman Nebula by Predrag Knezevic, 48322 Drnje, Croatia. Equipment: Teleskop Service TS 150mm APO Triplet, Atik 383L+ mono, CGEM, Teleskop Service TS 150mm APO Triplet, Starlight Xpress Lodestar, Baader OIII 8,5nm, Baader H-alpha 7nm , baader SII 8nm, Atik EFW2, Teleskop-Service TSOAG9, Dew-Not heater
Pacman Nebula by Alastair Woodward, Derby, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 6″ Newtonian, EQ3-2 with RA and DEC motors, Unmodded Canon 350d, CLS clip filter.
NGC281 (Pacman Nebula) by Chris Heapy, Macclesfield, UK. Equipment: TeleVue NP127is refractor, Atik 490EX operating at 1×1 binning, Losmandy G11 + Gemini controler, Tlelveu Pronto + SX Lodestar.
Pacman Nebula by Tom Howard, Crawley, Sussex, UK. Equipment: Nikon D7000 DSLR, Meade 5000 127mm refractor, EQ6.
NGC 281: The Pacman Nebula by Mike Garbett, Walsall, West Midlands, UK. Equipment: Equinox 80 refractor, Atik 428EX camera, Baader narrow band filters
NGC281 Pacman Nebula in Hubble Palette by Simon Todd, Newchapel, Lingfield, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher EQ8 Pro mount, Astro-Tech 8″ RC AT8RC, ATIK 383L+ cooled to -20C
NGC281 Pacman Nebula in RGB by Simon Todd, Newchapel, Lingfield, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher EQ8 Pro mount, Astro-Tech 8″ RC AT8RC, ATIK 383L+ Cooled to -20C
NGC 281. The Pacman Nebula by Steve Dean, Isle of Wight, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 80 mm ED PRO, NEQ6 PRO mount, SBIG 2000 XM CCD, Maxim DL.
NGC281 – Pacman Nebula by Alastair Woodward, Derby, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 150p, HEQ5 Pro GOTO, Modded Canon 1000d, CLS Clip Filter, Skywatcher Coma Corrector, QHY5L-II, PHD2, ST80 Guidescope
NGC281 Pacman Nebula by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Teleskop service 12″ Richey-Chretien telescope, Skywatcher EQ8 mount,Atik 383L+ camera, Astronomik Sii, Ha, Oiii filters, Astro physics 0.67 reducer.
NGC281 – Pacman Nebula in Narrowband by Simon Todd, Haywards Heath, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher EQ8 Pro Mount, Astro-Tech AT8RC 8″ Ritchey Chretien, StarlightXpress 7xEFW, ATIK 383L+ Mono CCD, Baader NB Filters, QHYCCD QHY5-L-II Guide Camera
Pacman Nebula by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher Espirt 100ED, QHY9S MONO CCD, Chroma 3nm Ha, Chroma 3nm SII and Chroma 3nm OIII.
NGC281 Pacman Interior by Chris Heapy, Macclesfield, UK. Equipment: Televue NP127is, Atik490ex, Moravian G4-16000, Chroma 3nM and Astrodon 3nM, Losmandy G11 and 10Micron GM2000HPS.
Pacman bi-colour by Jay Bird, Devon, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher ED80, Atik 16hr mono, Astronomik Ha, Baader oiii filters.
NGC281 PacMan Nebula by Mark Forbes, Stockport, UK. Equipment: Altair Astro StarWave 102ED refractor, Canon EOS 750D astro modified, Skywatcher AZ-EQ6 mount, unguided.
NGC281 – Pacman Nebula in Hubble Palette Narrowband by Simon Todd, Haywards Heath, UK. Equipment: Sky-Watcher EQ8 Pro, Atik Cameras 383L+ Mono CCD Cooled to -20C, Sky-Watcher Quattro 8-CF 8″ F4 Newtonian, Sky-Watcher Aplanatic Coma Corrector, Qhyccd QHY5L-II, Celestron Telescopes C80ED Refractor, Starlight Xpress Ltd 7x36mm EFW, Baader Planetarium 7nm HA, OIII and SII 36mm unmounted
NGC281 – Pacman Nebula – SHO by Simon Todd, Haywards Heath, UK. Equipment: , Sky-Watcher EQ8 Pro, Atik Cameras 383L+ Mono CCD Cooled to -20C, Sky-Watcher Quattro 8-CF 8″ F4 Newtonian, Sky-Watcher Aplanatic Coma Corrector, Qhyccd QHY5L-II, Celestron Telescopes C80ED Refractor, Starlight Xpress Ltd 7x36mm EFW, Baader Planetarium 7nm HA, OIII and SII 36mm unmounted.
Pacman Nebula – NGC 281 by Stewart Wilson, Enfield, UK. Equipment: Zwo ASI-1600 MM Cool, TS Ritchey Chretien 200mm with 0.67x reducer, Baader 7.5nm/8nm narrowband, Atik EFW-2, 10Micron GM-1000 HPS
NGC 281 Pacman Nebula by Matthew Singleton, Rochdale, UK. Equipment: Altair Astro 80mm APO Refractor, Atik 16HRC Camera, EQ6 Guided.
NGC 281 by Gary Opitz, Rochester, NY, USA. Equipment: TEC140APO refractor, ZWO ASI1600MM camera, ZWO Ha 7 nm filter, Astrodon OIII 5 nm filter, Orion Atlas mount
NGC 281 by DDS Observatory, Fregenal de la Sierra, Spain. Equipment: Refractor Altair 130/910, Moravian G2-4000, internal filter wheel, SHO 5nm Astrodon, Skytrack (SKYMECA), LodestarX2, AP900 GTOCP3.
NGC 281 Pacman Nebula – Hubble by Mr Natal Spiteri, Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK. Equipment: Explore Scientific ED80 80mm Refractor Scope, ATIK 314L+ CCD Mono Camera
Baader Ha, R, G, B Filters, Guiding via Orion Star Shoot 70mm & CCD & PHD2.