As human beings we always find order within chaos. Give someone a random list of numbers and they will find some kind of order or pattern. It is the same reason why when we look out to other moons, planets and star systems we see things that we know about on earth (think about the “man on the moon” or the constellations like Orion or the Big Dipper).
The horsehead nebula is no different… and at 1500 Light Years away from Earth we can pretty confidently say that it’s going to be roughly the same shape. The clouds that have formed to make the shape of the horsehead will one day form together to birth a new star, but this will only happen once it reaches the Jeans mass.
The horse-head feature is dark because it is really an opaque dust cloud that lies in front of the bright red emission nebula. Like clouds in Earth’s atmosphere, this cosmic cloud has assumed a recognisable shape by chance.
After many thousands of years, the internal motions of the cloud will surely alter its appearance. The emission nebula‘s red colour is caused by electrons recombining with protons to form hydrogen atoms. On the image left is the Flame Nebula, an orange-tinged nebula that also contains filaments of dark dust. Just to the lower left of the Horsehead nebula featured picture is a blueish reflection nebulae that preferentially reflects the blue light from nearby stars.