Swimming up the Milky Way

By Phil Plait | June 7, 2011 7:00 am

Pareidolia is the psychological term for seeing patterns in random or near-random distributions of things. The Face on Mars, the Man in the Moon, Jesus in a taco shell, and so on… most of the time it manifests as faces, since our brains are geared to recognize them as easily as possible.

But sometimes you get other patterns too. I don’t know about you, but I agree with astronomer Yurii Pidopryhora: this is a dolphin:

It’s actually a cold molecular gas cloud about 25,000 light years away in our galaxy, seen in the radio part of the spectrum. I don’t have much to say, except

1) If that dolphin’s swimming, it must be in liquid helium and not water — note the temperature scale on the right; and

b) Too bad this is in the constellation of Scutum the shield; it should really be in Delphinus.

Image credit: Yurii Pidopryhora (JIVE)

Related posts:

Angry slippers are angry (a personal fave; I took the picture!)
Heart and skull nebula
Happy pareidolidays!


Comments (23)

  1. Adams was right

    Douglas Adams was right – and now the dolphins have left the earth…

  2. Chris

    So long and thanks for all the fish!

  3. AK

    So long, and thanks for all the fish?

  4. Smith

    So long and thanks for all the fish!

    (EDIT: Lol beat me to it)

  5. Nigel Depledge

    That’s no dolphin : it’s a Nessie!

  6. Chris

    Great minds think alike :-)

  7. Doug

    That is clearly a star whale (http://tardis.wikia.com/wiki/Star_Whale) not a dolphin.

  8. Grand Lunar

    I see a shark.
    This is what REALLY happened to Megalodon!

  9. I see the Dolphin but I also see a Swordfish chasing a small shark (heading the the opposite direction to the Dolphin).

  10. TMB

    Actually, it’s HI (neutral hydrogen), not molecular gas.

  11. ceramicfundamentalist

    this is a bit of a stretch, don’t you think? just demonstrates that you can see literally anything in randomness, as long as you look at randomness selectively enough (what would this look like at other wavelengths?), and aren’t too picky about the image being realistic.

  12. alfaniner

    You’re welcome, for all the fish.

  13. Actually, it’s a shark, as noted by the caption within the image itself:


  14. Xulxanrov

    Not to be pedantic, but the Kelvin on the scale here is referring to either antenna temperature or brightness temperature, which is a measure of the intensity (brightness) of the radio waves from the cloud, not the literal physical temperature of the cloud. Nonetheless, such clouds are often very cold.

  15. OtherRob

    As soon as the picture came up I thought, “it’s a whale”.

  16. Damon

    Mmm, too bad most of the anomalies cited in satellite photos of the moon and mars aren’t of faces but of symmetrical shapes like pyramids and buildings. Nice try, Phil.

  17. Dolphin – or shark or Ichthyosaur? :


    Ain’t convergent evolution grand? ūüėČ

    b) Too bad this is in the constellation of Scutum the shield; it should really be in Delphinus.

    Well, it could be the design (emblem) on the sheild I suppose?

    Delphinus is a great little constellation :


    one which really does look like it’s meant to & there’s a good story to its brightest stars names :


    Sualocin (Alpha Delphini) and Rotanev (Beta Delphini) as well for those who don’t already know. :-)

  18. mike burkhart

    Maybe this is a seen from the new movie ”Flipper in space” I supose this will be named the Dlophin nebula.

  19. Simon

    Very like a whale. Hamlet. Act iii. Sc. 2

  20. #17 Damon the Troll:
    Here’s an idea; why don’t you go and make a pain in the posterior of yourself somewhere else?

  21. #18 MTU:
    The actual name of the guy who named Sualocin and Rotanev was Niccolo Cacciatore. “Cacciatore” is Italian for “hunter”, and the Latin equivalent is “venator” – hence his Latinised name, Nicolaus Venator. The names were later reproduced in other catalogues, whose authors didn’t cotton onto his exercise in modesty, and by the time someone realised their origin, we were stuck with them.

  22. This must be one of the Space Whales the U.S.S. Voyager encountered in the Delta Quadrant.

    Just remember to roll over and turn blue if you see one!


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar