Posts Tagged ‘Spitzer’

Stellar Factory

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

Standing and flying birds hide in a jungle of eyes in a star-making factory known as Cygnus X in this image from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Zoom into the intricate bubbles, folds and layers of dust in this infrared image. Let us know in the comments below what you see; what patterns you find or what stories you create.

Cygnus X is a vast star nursery. This part of our Milky Way Galaxy is the most active and chaotic regions of star birth. Cavities, or bubbles, carved out by vicious radiation and winds from the most massive stars in the cloud, dominate the scene. These huge stars will likely have short lives and end blowing themselves apart in supernova explosions. As gas and dust are pushed outward from these explosions, new stars will form where the material is pushed together. As these shockwaves move outward more new stars will form.

Spitzer allows astronomers a chance to peer into the thick dust of this nebula. On Earth, we feel infrared light as heat on our skin. Visible light is blocked by the dark dust but infrared light is not. As we look into this cloud, new bright stars appear. Some are smaller than our Sun. Others are among the largest in the galaxy. We see young stars growing in pillars of gas. New stars are also seen tucked into cocoons of dust lining the edges of the bubbles. Astronomers think that our Sun was created in a smaller and less chaotic version of this star cloud.

Cygnus X is found about 4,500 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Cygnus, the Swan.

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Growing, glowing spider

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/L.Townsley et al.; Infrared: NASA/JPL/PSU/L.Townsley et al.

A glowing spider is grows inside this massive star-forming region known as the Tarantula Nebula.

Explore the spider outlines in this image from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope. What stories or patterns does your imagination see? Leave a note below.

The Tarantula Nebula or 30 Doradus, is one of the largest star-making regions known to astronomers. It is huge and it is growing. It takes light more than 1,100 years, traveling nine trillion kilometers per year, to cross the nebula. The gargantuan nebula is found in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighboring dwarf galaxy, about 160,000 light-years from Earth. About 2,400 massive lie in the heart of the Tarantula Nebula. Scorching radiation and powerful winds from these stars sculpt and shape the surrounding nebula. The ultraviolet radiation from the stars also causes the hydrogen gas within the nebula to glow bright red.

Look deep in the nebula for bubbles in the nebula. Shockwaves, like ripples in a pond, move out from the massive stars. Bubbles also form as the massive stars destroy themselves as supernovae.

The Tarantula Nebula has enough material to make 450,000 sun-like stars. Astronomers speculate that one day the nebula will form a globular cluster. The Tarantula Nebula is similar to the closer Orion Nebula. If the much brighter Tarantula Nebula was as close to Earth as the Orion Nebula, it would cast shadows.

Turtle and the Bird

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/H. Inami (SSC/Caltech)

Merging galaxies form the shapes of a turtle and bird in this image from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the image of these interacting galaxies known as II Zw 096. What stories or pictures do you see? Leave a note below. I imagine a story of a bird and turtle created from a single egg. The bird, to the left, takes flight after being born while brother turtle, to the right, swims upward.

The collection of stars is really a galactic merger. Usually galaxies are very far apart. Sometimes they come close to each other. The gravity of both bring them closer and closer. In hundreds of millions of years, they will become one larger elliptical galaxy. Other examples of galactic smashups include the Antennae Galaxy and the Tadpole Galaxy.

As galaxies pass close to each other, gas and dust in the outer arms of the galaxies is pushed and pulled together like taffy. This creates a perfect environment for stars to form. A bloom of stars is taking place within this galactic merger. Astronomers call these starburst galaxies. Look at the center of the image between the two galaxies. In infrared, this region glows brightly. Infrared is a portion of the light spectrum just below what our eyes can see. We feel infrared light as heat. The heat of lots of stars being created creates the red glow we see. Thick dust blocks the visible light from this burst of new star formation.

From the nose of our bird and turtle, the galaxies span about 50,000 light years. The light from II Zw 096 is more than a half billion years old. The ancient light of these galaxies has been traveling from the direction of the constellation Delphinus, the Dolphin, for about 525 million years.

New face of a supernova

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/B. Williams (NCSU)

The outline of a face show the remains of the oldest documented supernova in this infrared image of RCW 86 from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.

Explore the dusty glowing remains of this exploded star. What patterns or stories do you see? Leave a note below.

In 185 A.D., the Chinese wrote about a mysterious “guest star” that appeared in the sky. The star remained visible for eight months. The Chinese had no way of knowing they witnessed one of the most powerful events in the universe. Using images from Spitzer and the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, astronomers are able to piece together the story Chinese historians first witnessed nearly 2,000 years ago. RCW 86 is a special kind of supernova. A white dwarf, the dead remains of a star like our Sun, pulled material from a companion star. As this material piles up, it becomes super-hot. Reactions inside the star go haywire and the star explodes. Astronomers call this a Type 1A supernova. Supernova give off so much light energy, they briefly outshine an entire galaxy.

Using the data from the orbiting observatories, astronomers solved another puzzle; how the remnant got so large in just 1,800 years. They found that the white dwarf, with its strong solar wind, created a bubble within the region around the star. The cavity was already huge when the star exploded. When it blew up, a shockwave pushed the edge of the bubble out much quicker than it normally would.

The colors of the image are not real but they do provide scientists important information. Infrared data from Spitzer and WISE are shown in yellow and red. These colors show warm dust in deep space. Blues and greens in the image are from X-ray data taken from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton Observatory. The X-rays show gas in deep space that has been heated to millions of degrees as the expanding edge of the supernova passed.

Light from RCW 86 took about 8,200 years to reach the eyes of the Chinese historians. The remains of the “guest star” are found in the faint southern constellation Circinus, the Compass. From Earth, the bubble is slightly larger than a full moon. At this distance, that makes the bubble about 85 light-years across.

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.


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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