The truly massive clouds of gas and dust that we call Nebulae are often the subjects of some spectacular photography, but these pictures leave the task of visualizing the 3D-space a nebula takes up to our imagination. That challenge inspired Finnish astrophotographer J-P Mestävainio to create artistically-interpreted 3D animations of nebula he's photographed. His method involves adding interpretations and educated guesses based on the formation of the nebula and a rule-of-thumb that brighter stars are closer than darker ones to known data about the nebula, like distance and the location of certain stars around it to create a 3D model of the nebula. It may not have much scientific merit, but it's a fantastic way to see these structures in a new light. The nebula pictured here is IC 1396, which is 3,000 light years from Earth, though you can see many more animated 3D nebulae at Mestävainio's website.

Ic1396_animation2