Category: Plants/Flowers

A twisting and turning sea

Credit: NASA/ESA and Hubble

Dark dust twists and turns in this image of the Carina Nebula from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the glowing gas and dark blobs. What stories can you tell? Leave a note below.

This image is just a tiny part of the vast Carina Nebula. The nebula is a star-making factory about 7,500 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Carina, the Keel of Jason’s ship the Argo from Greek mythology. The abundance of gas and dust makes it a perfect place for stars to form. Gravity pulls globs of dust closer together. As more material piles up, it starts to warm up and eventually gets hot enough for hydrogen atoms to begin to fuse. The inky dark blobs in the upper right of the image may be cocoons for new stars. Astronomers call them Bok Globules, after American astronomer Bart Bok who first described them in the 1940s.

Some big stars have already been born from the nebula. These stars blaze so brightly and give off so much radiation that it carves the nebula into incredible shapes. The stars radiation also excites atoms in the cloud causing them to glow like a neon sign.

A thin veil of dust lies between Earth and the glowing background. Just like clouds on Earth, the dust clouds in the nebula flow, swirl and twist with unseen currents.

Starry Garden of Petals and Waves

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/L. Allen (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA) and the IRAC GTO Team

A starry garden full of dusty petals and waves of gas fill this image of the Coronet Cluster from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Explore the star-forming clouds of the Coronet Cluster. What patterns or stories do you see? Leave a note below.

The Coronet Cluster lies at the heart of this nebula in the Corona Australis region. Like the well-known Orion Nebula, this region of space is full of gas and dust creating a perfect place for stars to form. As gas and dust gather in the nebula, gravity pulls it together. When enough material clumps together, the cloud can begin to collapse. A star is born when it shines on its own and starts to convert hydrogen gas into energy in a process called fusion.

The infrared eyes of the Spitzer Space Telescope peer through the thick dust of this nebula showing faint structures not seen with our regular eyes. New stars in the central cluster of stars warm and excite the hydrogen gas in the cloud causing it to glow. If you look closely in the center of the image, you can see a sheet of green gas. This cold dust reflects the light from the new stars rather than glowing.

The nebula surrounding the Coronet Cluster is one of the nearest and most active regions of star formation. The cluster is found about 424 light-years from Earth toward the faint constellation Corona Australis, or the Southern Crown. The ancient Greeks saw the constellation as a laurel wreath, not as a crown.

Infrared Sunflowers

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SINGS Team

Glowing dust lanes of this spiral galaxy resemble a sunflower in an image from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Follow the arching red spiral arms toward the dense ring of stars near the center of Messier 63. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note below. To astronomers looking through telescopes, Messier 63 resembled a sunflower. Messier 63 is also known as the Sunflower Galaxy.

By looking at galaxies in infrared light, astronomers can more easily pick out the dust lanes within spiral galaxies. In a normal image, such as from the Hubble Space Telescope, dust is dark and covers starlight. But the infrared eyes of Spitzer pick out the heat in the dust lanes. The dusty spiral compress and bring gas and dust together providing everything for new stars to form.

In visible light, the bright spiral galaxy has a glowing yellow core with sweeping blue spiral arms. The blue light comes from new blue stars. The spiral arms are streaked with dark dust and patches of pink nebulae. The galaxy is about 100,000 light-years across; the same size as our Milky Way Galaxy.

Look for a diagonal line just below and to the right of the Sunflower Galaxy. This short line is actually a distant galaxy with its edge facing toward us. M63 is found about 37 million light-years from Earth toward the small constellation Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs. The galaxy is not far from the more famous Whirlpool Galaxy.

Carina Blues

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/M. Povich (Penn State Univ.)

We are used to seeing a rainbow of colors when we gaze out into the universe. But light beyond the range of our eyes is no less beautiful as we see in this image of Eta Carinae from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Explore the subtle reds and blues in this image surrounding one of the most massive stars in the Milky Way. What shapes and pictures do you see in this star cloud? Leave a note below.

The region surrounding Eta Carinae is a giant star-making factory. Sometimes pockets of hydrogen gas and dust form pockets. Gravity pulls this star-stuff together. If enough material comes together, a star may be born. In these vast clouds, giant stars can be born. Eta Carinae is one of them. It is 100 times heavier and a million times brighter than our own Sun. Eta Carinae is the bright star in the upper center of this image. Surrounding the star is a bubble of gas and dust that is being pushed away by strong winds and blistering radiation.

Blue areas in the image are regions of transparent gas and dust. We see these regions in normal, visible light. Red, orange and green areas are usually hidden from view by dark clouds of dust.

Eta Carinae is found about 10,000 light-years from Earth toward the constellation of Carina, the Keel of the mythological ship Argo Navis.

Green Ring


A bubble of hot gas and glowing dust sculpted by a massive star shapes a green ring or flower in this image from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Explore the green and red bubble known as RCW 120. What shapes or patterns do you see in the image? Leave a note below.

This bubble of glowing gas is found near the plane of the Milky Way in the dense star clouds of Scorpius, the Scorpion. Giant stars, known as “O-type” stars send out a torrent of light and stellar winds. These winds shape bubbles in the gas clouds from which the stars are born. With Spitzer’s infrared light detectors, astronomers can see colors of light we cannot see with our eyes. We feel infrared light as heat. We can see young, hot stars nestled deep within their dusty cocoons. The intense winds are not all that is unleashed from these stars. Scorching ultraviolet radiation causes molecules of hydrogen and other elements to glow. The ring is created when intense winds slam into the calm gas and dust cloud. The reddish area inside the bubble show slightly larger and hotter grains of dust.

This formation inside dust clouds is common. If you explore a Spitzer image of the entire galaxy, you’ll find hundreds of similar bubbles. Even within this image, many other smaller bubbles can be found.

RCW 120 lies slightly above the plane of our galaxy about 4,300 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Scorpius.


The ancient peoples saw pictures in the sky. From those patterns in the heavens, ancient storytellers created legends about heroes, maidens, dragons, bears, centaurs, dogs and mythical creatures...
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