Jabbah’s Dolphin

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team


A dolphin frolicks in the dust around the bright star Jabbah in this image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Explorer, or WISE.

Explore the green filaments of nebula, yellow-tinged bubbles and red dust of this infrared image. What shapes and stories can you tell? Leave a note below.

WISE’s telescope sees the Universe in infrared. Humans feel the infrared part of the light spectrum more than we see it. It lies just outside the visible light part of the spectrum. We feel infrared as heat. So WISE shows warm dust allowing astronomers to see deep within star clouds where thick dust blocks visible light. And in the process we might see new stars developing. The green and yellow clouds are dust particles that are slightly warmer than the surrounding space. Areas in red are patches of even warmer dust heated up by the nearby stars.

Zoom into the bright star surrounded by a red glow just to the right of center. This is Jabbah. The name is Arabic and means “forehead of the Scorpion.” But while it appears to be one star, Jabbah actually is a collection of stars. Each of these stars is brighter and more massive than ten Suns. The star cloud near Jabbah, creating the dolphin shape, is called IC 4592. IC 4601 is another nebula to the far left of the image.

Another star of interest in this image also is surrounded by the warm glow of red dust. Zoom into the lower right corner of the image. The warm dust around this star, known as 9 Scorpii, is pushed to one side. 9 Scorpii is another massive star but this one is moving quickly through space. It’s zipping along at about 1,000 kilometers per second, or more than 224,000 miles per hour. The star could travel the distance between the Moon and Earth in just one hour. The red cloud pushed to one side may be a bow shock as the star pushes through the dust like a boat creates waves on the water. Astronomers think that 9 Scorpii may be a runaway star. It possibly could have been part of a star system where a much more massive star exploded. The blast sent 9 Scorpii careening into deep space.

All of the stars found within this cloud probably formed all at about the same time about 5 million years ago. Our Sun may have formed from a similar cloud of gas and dust more than four billion years ago. The stars that formed with the Sun have long since wandered away from their birthplace.

Jabbah, 9 Scorpii and IC 4592 are all found about 440 light-years away toward the constellation Scorpius.

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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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