Posts Tagged ‘Spitzer Space Telescope’

Butterfly of Combined Light

X-ray: NASA/CXC/U.Mich./S.Oey, IR: NASA/JPL, Optical: ESO/WFI/2.2-m

When NASA combines images from different telescopes they create amazing works of art and we learn a few things.

Explore this butterfly of combined light, known as NGC 1929, from NASA‘s Spitzer and Chandra space telescopes and ESO‘s ground-based telescope in Chile. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

Star cluster NGC 1929 contains some of the most massive stars known to scientists. These massive stars spew intense radiation and a blistering stellar wind that blow huge bubbles in the surrounding nebula. The massive stars also end their short lives exploding as supernova which further helps carve out cavities in this region. Officially, the entire nebula is known as LHA 120-N 44, or just N 44. The vast superbubble is 325 by 250 light-years across; almost a hundred times the distance between the Sun and the nearest star. As you explore the image, look for dozens of smaller bubbles and the faint rim of another huge bubble on the left side of the nebula. Along the edges of the superbubble, new stars are forming

As beautiful as this destructive scene is, we wouldn’t be able to see it quite like this with our own eyes. Astronomers combined the light of several telescopes; all observing N44 in different wavelengths of light. X-rays from Chandra, in blue, reveal areas created by winds and shocks. Infrared data from Spitzer, in red, show where dust and cooler gas reside. Optical light from ESO’s telescope in Chile, light we can see with our eyes, outlines where ultraviolet radiation from the stars causes the gas to glow.

N 44 and NGC 1929 are found about 160,000 light-years from Earth in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf, irregular companion galaxy to our Milky Way Galaxy.

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Bumblebees and the Bubbles of Scutum

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Wisconsin

A bumblebee hums around the part of the night-time sky dominated by the constellation Scutum in this infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Explore the bubbles in this image. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

The Milky Way Galaxy is full of wonders and not all of them can be seen easily with our naked eye. The stars and shapes in this image cannot be seen without the help of special telescopes and sensors aboard the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope. Spitzer helps astronomers see warm objects, such as new stars, lurking in cold dust clouds. These objects are hidden from view by a thick veil of dust. The orbiting telescope sees the Universe in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum that lies just below the range of visible light, like a rainbow. We don’t see infrared light but we can feel it as heat.

New stars forming deep in these clouds blew bubbles into the gas and dust. As they become hotter, the surrounding nebula will expand and begin to glow as ultraviolet light floods the area. Someday our naked eyes will behold new and spectacular nebulae.

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Ripples in an Explosion of Light


Waves of gas and dust ripple through this image of the Large Magellanic Cloud from the Herschel and Spitzer space telescopes.

Explore the curls of dust and waves of gas creating an explosion of light in this image. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

Both the ESA Herschel Space Observatory and NASA Spitzer Space Telescope see the Universe in the infrared. Infrared is a part of the spectrum of light that is just below visible light. We feel infrared light energy as heat. What these telescopes offer us is a way to see the heat of stars being born and of warm dust. And it allows astronomers to peek inside nebula to see warm objects that otherwise are blocked by thick dust in visible light.

The bright object to the left of center is called 30 Doradus or the Tarantula Nebula. This nebula is one of the largest star-making areas known to scientists. Look for other bubbles of star-formation around the image. Any bright blob is a an area of warm dust and possible new star formation.

The Large Magellanic Cloud is a small, irregular dwarf galaxy that has come alongside the Milky Way Galaxy. 30 Doradus, deep within the LMC, is found about 170,000 light-years from Earth. Both the LMC and another small companion galaxy known as the Small Magellanic Cloud can be seen in the night skies of the southern hemisphere.

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Rainbow Infrared

ESA Herschel

A rainbow stretches across the Orion Nebula in this image from the ESA’s Herschel and NASA’s Spitzer space telescopes.

Explore the infrared swirl of gas and dust. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note below. As you zoom across the image look for lumpy areas of gas and dust. These may be areas of new star formation. Also follow the filaments of dust across the image. The lumps are strung along these filaments leaving scientists to wonder at how new stars are being born inside the cloud.

M42, or the Orion Nebula, is one of the most well-known nebula in the sky. It is one of the few that are visible to the naked eye. It is the fuzzy patch of light sitting just below the belt of Orion. The nebula is spectacular in visible light but in infrared streams of gas and dust become visible. Dust blocks our view of the inside of the nebula but Herschel’s and Spitzer’s infrared sensors can show us warm gas deep within the cloud. Hot young stars are being born. Ultraviolet radiation from these stars cause the gas and dust to glow. A star forms when a dense cloud of gas and dust gather in one place. Eventually this cloud may collapse under its own gravity, swirling around a common center. Material spirals toward the center and collects in a giant ball. If conditions are right, this ball of gas and dust can start to glow on its own. When temperatures are hot enough in its core, nuclear fusion begins and the ball becomes a star. Some of the leftover material still spinning around the new sun may become planets, comets and asteroids.

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A Bubble of Many Colors

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: NASA/STScI; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Steward/O.Krause et al.


Supernova remnant Cassiopeia A glows with many colors in this composite image from NASA’s Great Observatories.

Zoom into the jumbled strands of colors. What stories or pictures do you see? Leave a note below.

Cassiopeia A, or Cas A, is the remnant of a star that exploded. Supernovae are the ultimate end of stars that are about ten times more massive than our Sun. When stars this big run out of hydrogen fuel, they quickly expand. Their great gravity however pulls the material back in toward the star where it heats up very fast creating a runaway nuclear fusion reaction. The star becomes unstable and explodes.

As you explore the image, look for the different colors offered by images of each observatory. Astronomers used to think that the explosion scattered material evenly around the star. But knots and filaments show that material was ejected at different times and speeds. Spitzer imagery shows reddish warm dust in the outer shell of the supernova with a comfortable temperature of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). Hubble Space Telescope imagery shows a fine yellow filament structure of warmer gases. Chandra imagery shows superhot gas in blues and greens. The hot gas was created when material ejected at high speed during the explosion slammed into the calm gas and dust surrounding the star. Look for the turquoise dot near the center of the image. This may be the neutron star created during the supernova. A neutron star is the hot and super-dense core of an exploded star. Some scientists believe that a black hole resides at the center of the remnant.

Cas A lies about 11,000 light-years from the Earth toward the constellation Cassiopeia. Astronomers believe first light from the supernova reached Earth about 300 years ago. But no one on Earth seems to have seen it. Historians think that John Flamsteed may have noticed the star in 1680. Astronomers theorize that the massive star had ejected a dense bubble of dust that blocked light from the explosion. Scientists discovered the supernova in the 1940s because it is one of the brightest radio sources in the sky. No supernovae have been visible in the Milky Way since.

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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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