Posts Tagged ‘stellar nursery’

Floppy Ears

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/E. Churchwell (University of Wisconsin)

An elephant with big floppy ears peers from in this cloud of cold gas and dust in an image of RCW 49 from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Explore this stellar nursery. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note below.

Elephants have never flown into space but many of the shapes and patterns in nebulae and galaxies look like a starry zoo. As we zoom into the plumes of gas and dust, RCW 49 shows intricate and lacy patterns that we can’t see with our own eyes. Spitzer sees the universe in infrared. We feel infrared as heat. Deep within the cold dust of RCW 49, stars are being born. Their new light warms the dust just enough that it lights up in infrared. Each color of the image represents a different temperature of dust. Red and pink are tendrils of dust. Green colors are pockets of gas.

Zoom into the center to look closely at a tightly packed group of blue jewels, a small star cluster. Solar winds and radiation from this swarm of stars is beginning to clear out a bubble in the nebula.

Using telescopes like Spitzer allow astronomers to look inside a nebula showing the nebula’s newborn stars. This image is helping scientists understand how stars form.

RCW 49, also known as NGC 3247 or Gum 29, is found about 13,700 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Centaurus, the Centaur.

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Stellar Slug

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

A stellar slug-shape rises out of the vast stellar nursery of NGC 2174 in this image from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore this stellar nursery. Leave a note below and tell us what shapes you see in this colorful image?

As stars begin to shine, they blow off their cocoon of gas and dust. Intense stellar winds from fiery, new stars shape the great clouds of hydrogen gas. You can follow the points of the “slug” toward the stars, which are out of the image, that are shaping this cloud. Scorching ultraviolet radiation from the new stars excites the hydrogen gas causing it to glow. Other elements within the star cloud glow with different colors creating a dazzling rainbow while dark dust clouds are silhouetted against the glowing gas.

NGC 2174 lies about 6,400 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Orion, the Hunter. Another unrelated and more famous stellar nursery, the Great Nebula, is found within Orion as well.

Starry Presents

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

In case you missed our amazing Hubble image countdown to Christmas last year, here is a present to put under the Christmas Tree Nebula.

In this image of the star-forming region R136 from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope WFC3, astronomers take a close look at this region of the 30 Doradus Nebula. The region is only a few million years old. R136 is 170,000 light-years from Earth in the Large Magellanic Cloud. 30 Doradus is the largest, most active star-making region astronomers know of.

Explore the image. A wreath of warm, glowing hydrogen gas surrounds hundreds of sparkling blue stars. These hot, blue stars are giants. Some of them are more than 100 times more massive than our Sun. Stars of this size will have a short life ending in brilliant supernovas in just a few million years. The hot stars are also hollowing out areas in the nebula. We wouldn’t normally see the nebula with these colors. To learn more about the nebula the birth of stars, astronomers combined ultraviolet, visible and red light to make this incredible image.

Zoom into the nebula which is dominated by pillars, gas ridges and valleys. Torrential wind from the new stars carve this landscape while ultraviolet light causes the nebula to glow like holiday lights. You can find elephant trunks, tadpoles, jellyfish and sea creatures all over the image hiding in the gas and dust. Share what you find by leaving a comment.

Red Sharks

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/S. Stolovy (Spitzer Science Center/Caltech)

Filaments of star clouds toward the core of our Milky Way Galaxy weave patterns that resemble a shark or a dragon in this image from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Explore the infrared image of the galaxy’s center from the orbiting telescope. What patterns and shapes do you see in the cloud? Leave a comment below. In this false color image, old, cool stars shine blue, white dust is lit by hot massive stars show as red. Stellar nurseries may hide in the dark star clouds. Bubbles and arcs of gas seem to have been formed from fierce winds blowing from the galaxy’s most massive stars.

Zoom into the brightest spot in the center. This is the very heart of our Milky Way Galaxy. A supermassive black hole may hide in the bright haze.

From side to side, this image spans more than 890 light-years. It would take a beam of light 640 years; traveling at 6 trillion miles per year, to cross from top to bottom. From our position in a spiral arm about 26,000 light-years from the galactic core, the center of the galaxy takes on a disk-like shape. The stars and dust seen above and below the bright arc in the center are closer to Earth.

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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