One of the coolest GIFs we've ever seen: a rotating, 3D nebula

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Things that GIFs are good for, in no particular order:
1. Cats. This one, specifically.
3. Absolutely jaw-dropping 3D renderings of astronomical bodies. Like this one, created by astrophotographer J-P Metsävainio, of a star cluster named IC 1396.

Writes Metsävainio:

Since astronomical objects are too far away, no real parallax can be imaged. Doe to that, I have developed a method to turn my images to various 3D-formats. My work flow is based on scientific data from the object, distance and the source of ionization are usually known. The different types of the nebulae has typical structures, pillar like formations must point to the source of ionization, the radiation pressure forms kind of hollow area, inside of the nebula, around newly born stars, dark nebulae must be at front of the emission ones to show, etc... rest of the missing information is then replaced with an artistic vision.

The whole process is pretty much like sculpting!

Pretty remarkable — though, according to Bad Astronomy's Phil Plait, Metsävainio's rendering is more art than science. Most of the stills that comprise this gif are actually artificially generated, "based on various assumptions on how nebulae are shaped."


[J-P Metsävainio via Bad Astronomy]