Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Wisc.

Deep in the constellation Sagittarius, a cloud that looks like a swan is making new stars. The Swan Nebula is not a quiet nursery though as shown in this image from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope. It’s an active and tumbling cloud of gas and dust. Massive stars make up the center part of the star cloud. These stars force rivers of gas and dust to slam into the quiet outer regions creating twists and dark areas. Eventually, these dark pockets will form into new stars as well.

Astronomers also are interested in bow shocks found in the image. The bow shocks, like the ripples made by a boat in a lake, form when the fast moving gas slams into another object. The gas piles up on the front edge and then flows around the object. One astronomer, Matt Povich, describes it like a “rock in a rushing river.”

The Swan Nebula, or M17, is about 6,000 light years away toward the constellation Sagittarius, the archer. It is also called the Omega Nebula, M17, NGC 6618, The Horseshoe Nebula, and in the southern hemisphere, the Lobster Nebula

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows astronomers the universe in infrared. Infrared is a kind of light that we cannot see but we feel in the form of heat. Spitzer has special telescopes that change that heat into something we can actually see.