With image data from telescopes large and small, this close-up features the dusty Elephant's Trunk Nebula. It winds through the emission nebula and young star cluster complex IC 1396, in the high and far off constellation of Cepheus. Also known as vdB 142, the cosmic elephant's trunk is over 20 light-years long. The colorful view highlights bright, swept-back ridges that outline the region's pockets of cool interstellar dust and gas. Nearly 3,000 light-years distant, the relatively faint IC 1396 complex covers a large region on the sky, spanning over 5 degrees. This dramatic scene spans a 1 degree wide field, about the size of 2 Full Moons.

Such embedded, dark, tendril-shaped clouds are believe to contain the raw material for star formation and hide protostars within. Star formation, however, would take a very long time to complete, and there are some huge obstacles a cloud of gas would have to overcome to form into a star. Just because we see a lot of smoke, doesn't mean something is forming behind it.
Image Credit: Robert Gendler