In visible light, the star-forming cloud catalogued as NGC 281 in the constellation of Cassiopeia appears to be chomping through the cosmos, earning it the nickname the “Pacman” nebula after the famous Pac-Man video game of the 1980s. When viewed in infrared light by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, the Pacman takes on a new appearance. This image was made from observations by all four infrared detectors aboard WISE. Blue and blue-green represent infrared light at wavelengths of 3.4 and 4.6 microns, respectively, which is primarily from stars, the hottest objects pictured. Green and red represent light at 12 and 22 microns, respectively, which is primarily from warm dust.
The Pacman nebula, also called NGC 281, and which is located 9,200 light years away in the constellation Cassiopeia, is located at the top of the picture, taking a bite in the direction of the upper left corner. In place of its typical, triangle-shaped mouth is a new set of lower, sharp-looking teeth.The teeth are actually pillars where new stars may be forming. These structures were formed when radiation and winds from massive stars in a central cluster blew gas and dust away, leaving only the densest of material in the pillars. The red dots sprinkled throughout the picture are thought to be the youngest stars, still forming in cocoons of dust.