The 10 strangest space structures discovered in 2021

Orbiting more than 300 miles (480 kilometers) over Earth and separated by tens of millions of light-years from many of the interstellar objects it studies, the Hubble Space Telescope takes “working remotely” to a new extreme. Even as the world below grappled with another pandemic year, weird and wonderful space discoveries flooded in from above, with astronomers pulling back the curtain on monster black holes, invisible magnetic megastructures and a cosmic treasure trove of extraterrestrial planets. 

As a reminder that the universe just gets stranger and stranger the farther you get from Earth, here are 10 of the most awesome, extreme and enigmatic space structures discovered in 2021.

1. A star-munching “Pac Man” in the southern sky

(Image credit: NASA/ESA/HEIC and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA))

They say that in space, no one can hear you wakka wakka wakka wakka. Tell that to the Pac-Man remnant, the gassy remains of an ancient supernova that have taken on a shape instantly recognizable to fans of the classic video game. The object, officially known as N 63A, is the product of a star that collapsed under its own weight in the not-too-distant Large Magellanic Cloud, located 163,000 light-years from the Milky Way. The resulting dispersal of superheated gas took on this shape by chance. But the bright “power pellets” sitting in Pac-Man’s path are no coincidence; according to NASA researchers, the pellets are young stars, forged from the same gas cloud that bore Pac-Man’s ill-fated progenitor star long, long ago. What a pity … Looks like that star ran out of extra lives.