Posts Tagged ‘star birth’

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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Smudge of Pink


Vast regions of stellar nurseries appear as smudges of pink light throughout galaxy NGC 4700 in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the patches of reddish, hydrogen-rich molecular clouds. What stories or pictures do you see? Leave note in the comments below.

NGC 4700 appears to be brimming with new star birth. the pinkish clouds, called H II regions, are similar to the Great Nebula in Orion or the Eagle Nebula. As gas and dust in these clouds move around, some of it bunches together. Gravity in the cloud causes more material to gather and eventually, when enough gathers in an area, it begins to glow on its own, becoming a star. As these stars grow in size and brightness, strong solar winds and ultraviolet light stream into the surrounding nebula causing it to glow.

Explore the structure of NGC 4700. Astronomers classify it as a barred-spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way Galaxy. But because of the angle of view, the spiral structure is hard to make out. Astronomers study these types of galaxies to get a better idea of how stars and galaxies form. Notice too, the dozens of more distant galaxies that dot the background of this deep image from Hubble.

NGC 4700, discovered in 1786 by English astronomer William Herschel, is found about 50 million light-years from Earth; relatively close galactic standards. It and many other galaxies make up a galaxy group in the constellation of Virgo, the Virgin.

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Blown Away

NASA, ESA, F. Paresce (INAF-IASF, Bologna, Italy), R. O’Connell (University of Virginia, Charlottesville), and the Wide Field Camera 3 Science Oversight Committee

Massive stars carve out deep cavities, blowing away gas and dust in the turbulent scene in the Large Magellanic Cloud in this infrared image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Zoom across the star-birth region of space surrounding R136. Dive into the swirls, peaks, ridges and deep hollows of this brilliant nebula. What stories or pictures do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

R136 is a large, young star cluster. It is only a few million years old but already is home to some of the most massive stars known. Some of these stars are more than 100 times more massive than our Sun. These monster stars will explode into supernovae within just a few million years. Scorching ultraviolet light from these huge suns excites the atoms in the nebula causing it to glow. These stars also send out strong solar winds creating a bubble in the nebula and sculpting a fantastic landscape. While they move the gas and dust around, the winds create shockwaves within the nebula that may trigger the birth of new stars.

R136 resides within the 30 Doradus Nebula. This massive nebula is found in the Large Magellanic Cloud about 170,000 light-years from Earth. The LMC is a small dwarf galaxy drifting near the Milky Way Galaxy. The LMC and another small irregular galaxy, called the Small Magellanic Cloud, can be seen in the skies of the southern hemisphere.

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Cosmic Pterodactyl

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

A giant star-forming region sets the perfect backdrop for a cosmic pterodactyl clutching a gem.

Explore the nebula SH 2-235 in this image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, spacecraft. What stories or images do you see in the image? Leave a note below.

From side to side, SH 2-235 is more than 100 light-years across. This nebula was created when two vast star clouds collided. The collision started a burst of star birth across the region. The sensors on WISE pick up the faint heat found in star-forming clouds. Ultraviolet light and strong stellar winds from a young star called BD+35°1201 cause the surrounding clouds of hydrogen gas to glow. Look for bright orange objects at the end of the curl of glowing gas. This cluster of stars are massive stars forming from the cold gas. Many different stages of star formation are found in this image.

As you wander across the image, notice several red colored clumps. These baby stars are still wrapped tightly in the thick blankets of dust from which they were created. Their warmth glows brightly in infrared light. In the bottom right of the image is a bright red mysterious object. The object was first spotted by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, or IRAS, as an indistinct bright spot. WISE reveals it as a hazy glow. Scientists will be using this image to learn more about this object and association with the nebula.

SH 2-235 is as part of a stellar catalog created by Stewart Sharpless in 1959. He created his Sharpless Catalogue to chart areas of ionized gas clouds called HII regions. The nebula is found on the other side of the galaxy between 5,000 and 8,000 light years from Earth in the Perseus arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Dark Dragons

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

A dark dragon appears to shoot out of a bright nebula in this image of M17 from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope.

M17 is a dusty place where stars are born. In this infrared image from Spitzer, M17 glows with the light of giant newborn stars. Explore the wispy clouds, dark lanes of dust and bubbles of this nebula. The bright blaze of light and color near the bottom is home to the most massive type of star, known as an O-type star. These stars are many times heavier than our Sun. Intense winds from these stars blow bubbles in the nebula.

Right now, M17 is moving through the Sagittarius spiral arm of our Milky Way Galaxy. Waves of star formation will be triggered as the gas and dust of the nebula interacts with gas and dust of the spiral arm. New stars are being born within the dusty dragon, called M17SWex. Sometime in the future, the dark nebula will flare up like the bright nebula nearby.

Also known as the Omega Nebula or the Swan Nebula, M17 is found about 6,800 light-years from Earth toward the rich starfields of the constellation Sagittarius. Swiss astronomer Philippe Loys de Chéseaux discovered the bright nebula in 1745. French astronomer Charles Messier catalogued the object in 1764.


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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