Star Formation within the Eagle Nebula - M16

This star-forming region is famous for its space pillars that appear in this infrared view from NASA’s Spitzer space telescope. The green dust is the cooler dust and the red dust represents hotter dust that was warmed by the explosion of a massive star 8,000 to 9,000 years ago. Astronomers estimate that the explosions blast wave spread outward and destroyed the eagle nebula’s three famous pillars about 6,000 years about. Since the light from the nebula takes about 7,000 years to reach us we will not witness this destruction for about another 1,000 years.

Credit: NASA/Spitzer

Spitzer discovers young stars with a ‘hula hoop’

Astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have spotted a young stellar system that “blinks” every 93 days. Called YLW 16A, the system likely consists of three developing stars, two of which are surrounded by a disk of material left over from the star-formation process.

As the two inner stars whirl around each other, they periodically peek out from the disk that girds them like a hula hoop. The hoop itself appears to be misaligned from the central star pair, probably due to the disrupting gravitational presence of the third star orbiting at the periphery of the system. The whole system cycles through bright and faint phases, with the central stars playing a sort of cosmic peek-a-boo as the tilted disk twirls around them. It is believed that this disk should go on to spawn planets and the other celestial bodies that make up a solar system.

YLW 16A is the fourth example of a star system known to blink in such a manner, and the second in the same star-forming region Rho Ophiuchus. The finding suggests that these systems might be more common than once thought. Blinking star systems with warped disks offer scientists a way to study how planets form in these environments. The planets can orbit one or both of the stars in the binary star system. The famous science fictional planet Tatooine in “Star Wars” orbits two stars, hence its double sunsets. Such worlds are referred to as circumbinary planets. Astronomers can record how light is absorbed by planet-forming disks during the bright and faint phases of blinking stellar systems, which in turn reveals information about the materials that comprise the disk.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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NASA’s Spitzer Telescope Celebrates 10 Years in Space via JPLClick images to enlarge and read captions. Image Credit: NASA | JPL-Caltech | Harvard-Smithsonian CfA Univ. of Virginia |University of Arizona | Univ. of Toledo

Ten years after a Delta II rocket launched NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, lighting up the night sky over Cape Canaveral, Fla., the fourth of the agency’s four Great Observatories continues to illuminate the dark side of the cosmos with its infrared eyes. 

The telescope studied comets and asteroids, counted stars, scrutinized planets and galaxies, and discovered soccer-ball-shaped carbon spheres in space called buckyballs. Moving into its second decade of scientific scouting from an Earth-trailing orbit, Spitzer continues to explore the cosmos near and far. One additional task is helping NASA observe potential candidates for a developing mission to capture, redirect and explore a near-Earth asteroid. 

"President Obama’s goal of visiting an asteroid by 2025 combines NASA’s diverse talents in a unified endeavor," said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington. "Using Spitzer to help us characterize asteroids and potential targets for an asteroid mission advances both science and exploration." 

Spitzer’s infrared vision lets it see the far, cold and dusty side of the universe. Close to home, the telescope has studied the comet dubbed Tempel 1, which was hit by NASA’s Deep Impact mission in 2005. Spitzer showed the composition of Tempel 1 resembled that of solar systems beyond our own. Spitzer also surprised the world by discovering the largest of Saturn’s many rings. The enormous ring, a wispy band of ice and dust particles, is very faint in visible light, but Spitzer’s infrared detectors were able to pick up the glow from its heat. 

Images, top to bottom - left to right: 

  • Montage of images taken by Spitzer.
  • The Barred Sculptor Galaxy in varied infrared wavelengths. 
  • The Tortured Clouds of Eta Carinae.
  • Young stars cradled in dust in Rho Ophiuchi dark cloud complex.
  • Saturn’s largest ring.
  • Spitzer spies spectacular Sombrero Galaxy.
  • Stars gather in ‘Downtown’ Milky Way.
  • Helix Nebula.
  • Stellar family tree, star forming region W5.
  • Sword of Orion, Orion’s Nebula.

Perhaps Spitzer’s most astonishing finds came from beyond our solar system. The telescope was the first to detect light coming from a planet outside our solar system, a feat not in the mission’s original design. With Spitzer’s ongoing studies of these exotic worlds, astronomers have been able to probe their composition, dynamics and more, revolutionizing the study of exoplanet atmospheres. 

Other discoveries and accomplishments of the mission include getting a complete census of forming stars in nearby clouds; making a new and improved map of the Milky Way’s spiral-arm structure; and, with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, discovering that the most distant galaxies known are more massive and mature than expected.

In October, Spitzer will attempt infrared observations of a small near-Earth asteroid named 2009 DB to better determine its size, a study that will assist NASA in understanding potential candidates for the agency’s asteroid capture and redirection mission. This asteroid is one of many candidates the agency is evaluating. 

Spitzer, originally called the Space Infrared Telescope Facility, was renamed after its launch in honor of the late astronomer Lyman Spitzer. Considered the father of space telescopes, Lyman Spitzer began campaigning to put telescopes in space, away from the blurring effects of Earth’s atmosphere, as early as the 1940s. His efforts also led to the development and deployment of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, carried to orbit by the space shuttle in 1990. 

In anticipation of the Hubble launch, NASA set up the Great Observatories program to fly a total of four space telescopes designed to cover a range of wavelengths: Hubble, Spitzer, the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the now-defunct Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.

Spitzer ran out of the coolant needed to chill its longer-wavelength instruments in 2009, and entered the so-called warm mission phase. Now, after its tenth year of peeling back the hidden layers of the cosmos, its journey continues. 

Continue reading…

  • For more information about Spitzer, visit here and here.

The Coyote Head Nebula

When searching for the nicest nebulae in the sky it’s nice when your friends help you out. This striking star formation region, mapped in infrared light by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, was recently spotted by one of Spitzer’s Twitter followers searching through the GLIMPSE360 panorama of our Milky Way galaxy.

One of multitudes of star-forming nebulas scattered across the sky, this area had been a bit of a “dirty” secret, tucked away behind a veil of dust that blocks our view in visible light. That obscuring veil fades away under Spitzer’s infrared gaze revealing a collection of young stars bursting out of the dusty gas clouds in which they formed. Astronomers identify this area only by a collection of catalog numbers like IRAS 15541-5349.

Credit: NASA/Spitzer

Galaxies in hiding

There are nearly 200 galaxies in this image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. These are part of the Perseus-Pisces supercluster of galaxies located 250 million light-years away. Normally, galaxies beyond our Milky Way are hidden from view when they happen to fall behind the plane of our galaxy. This is due to foreground dust standing in the way.

Spitzer’s Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire 360, or Glimpse 360 project, is pointing Spitzer away from the galactic center, to complete a full 360-degree scan of the Milky Way plane. It has captures many images in the process, such as this one, revealing hidden objects.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Wisconsin

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NASA has unveiled a stunning 360-degree view of the Milky Way galaxy to give everyone a better view of our neighborhood. The 20-gigapixel interactive map is the result of stitching together 2 million infrared pictures taken by the Spitzer space telescope and 10 years of work.

Spitzer captured about three percent of the sky—a seemingly miniscule amount that, because it recorded a band from a side view of the disk, actually contains around 50 percent of the stars in the Milky Way and 90 percent of the regions where stars are forming. The space telescope spent 4,142 hours taking these pictures as part of the Galactic Legacy Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire (GLIMPSE) project.

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The Great Andromeda Galaxy, M31

The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy and it the closest large galaxy to the milky way (this is not including dwarf galaxies). It is approximately 2.5 million light-years away in the constellation Andromeda and is listed as the 31st object in Messier’s catalog of large night-sky objects.

Andromeda is one of the easiest objects to spot in the night sky. It can be seen on a clear night with the unaided eye as a faint smudge of light about 3 times the apparent length of the moon. This makes the Galaxy a great viewing/imaging target if you have a pair of binoculars or a telescope.

Like our milky way galaxy, the Andromeda galaxy has smaller satellite galaxy, known as dwarf galaxies, that orbit it. One of these dwarf galaxies can be seen in the above images as a small smudge below Andromeda’s galactic disk.

The top image shows a wide field view of the Andromeda Galaxy. The next two images show wide field views of the galaxy in infrared and ultraviolet light and the last two are infrared and ultraviolet images taken recently by the Spitzer space telescope.

Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble/Wikipedia

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NASA’S Spitzer Sees Milky Way’s Blooming Countryside

New views from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope show blooming stars in our Milky Way galaxy’s more barren territories, far from its crowded core.

The images are part of the Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire (Glimpse 360) project, which is mapping the celestial topography of our galaxy. The map and a full, 360-degree view of the Milky Way plane will be available later this year. Anyone with a computer may view the Glimpse images and help catalog features.

We live in a spiral collection of stars that is mostly flat, like a vinyl record, but it has a slight warp. Our solar system is located about two-thirds of the way out from the Milky Way’s center, in the Orion Spur, an offshoot of the Perseus spiral arm. Spitzer’s infrared observations are allowing researchers to map the shape of the galaxy and its warp with the most precision yet.

While Spitzer and other telescopes have created mosaics of the galaxy’s plane looking in the direction of its center before, the region behind us, with its sparse stars and dark skies, is less charted.

"We sometimes call this flyover country," said Barbara Whitney, an astronomer from the University of Wisconsin at Madison who uses Spitzer to study young stars. "We are finding all sorts of new star formation in the lesser-known areas at the outer edges of the galaxy."

Read more: [x]

Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Wisconsin

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8 Beautiful New Astrophotographs from NASA

As part of American Archive Month, NASA has released eight images taken by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. These images have never been shown to the public before so I hope you do (as I did), enjoy!

1. G266.2-1.2 - Supernova Remnant
A haunting object produced by a supernova in our Milky Way, the purple is the shockwave of high energy particles expanding into interstellar space. The image is a combination of x-ray wavelengths imaged by Chandra (purple) and optical wavelengths from the Digitized Sky Survey (red, green, blue).

2. 3C353 - Supermassive Black Hole Jets
Interactions near a supermassive black hole can throw out huge amounts of energy and mass out from their poles. The galaxy harbouring this giant can be seen as the singular purple spot in the middle with the two lobes of radiation extending out  to either side. The x-ray wavelengths in purple are from Chandra and orange from the radio data from the Very Large Array.

3. NGC 3576 – Nebula
This beautiful nebula can be found 9,000 light years away in the Sagittarius arm of our own Milky Way. Nebulas like this one are home to much drama, from the evolution of massive stars, to their birth in dark clouds of gas and dust and their eventual destructive death. The x-ray data in blue is from Chandra and optical in orange and yellow from ESO.

4. NGC 4945 – Galaxy
NGC 4945 is very similar appearance to our own galaxy but observations suggest that it harbours a highly active supermassive black hole. Seen edge on from a distance of 13 million light years, the x-ray data from Chandra has been overlayed upon the optical image from the ESO.

5. IC 1396A – Elephant Trunk Nebula
A relatively well known nebula, the Elephant Trunk Nebula has graced many-a-astrophoto and is a prime example of how when radiation and stellar winds impact clouds of gas and dust they can cause new generations of stars to form. The x-ray data in purple is from Chandra and has been combined with optical data to give a more complete picture.

6. 3C 397 (G41.1-03) – Galactic Supernova Remnant
Researchers posit that the unusual shape of this remnant is due to the interaction of matter thrown off by the supernova with the cooler gas surrounding it. This image is a compositeof x-ray data from Chandra in purple, infrared emissions from Spitzer (yellow) and optical wavelengths from the Digitized Sky Survey (red, green, blue).

7. SNR B0049-73.6 – Supernova
This beautiful example of a supernova can be found in one of our neighbouring galaxies, the Small Magellanic Cloud. In the case of this star, observations suggest that the explosion was due to the collapse of the core of the central star. This image is a composite of purple from Chandra’s x-ray data, and infrared data from the 2MASS survey (red, green, blue).

8. NGC 6946 – Galaxy
Located around 22 million light years from Earth, this beautiful galaxy is also known by the name, the Fireworks Galaxy which is due it having the three oldest supernovas ever detected in the x-ray part of the spectrum. The image is composite of optical data from the Gemini Observatory (red, yellow, cyan) and x-ray data from Chandra (purple.

All credit to NASA/CSC/SAO

Distant Star Goes Disco

A disco inferno in space? Astronomers have been keeping an eye on an unusual star that unleashes a burst of light every 25 days, like an extremely slow pulsating disco ball. Similar pulsating bursts of light have been seen before, but this one, named LRLL 54361 is the most powerful beacon ever seen.

Using the Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes, astronomers have solved the mystery of this star. It is actually two newly formed protostars in a binary system, doing a little disco dance of their own. And as they spin around each other on the smoky dance floor (actually a dense cloud of gas and dust), a blast of radiation is unleashed each time the stars get close to each other in their orbits. The effect seen by the telescopes is enhanced by an optical illusion called a light echo.

The unusual thing is, while astronomers have seen this phenomenon before, called pulsed accretion, usually it is found in later stages of star birth – and not in such a young system or with such intensity and regularity.

Astronomers say LRLL 54361 offers insights into the early stages of star formation when lots of gas and dust is being rapidly accreted to form a new binary star.

“This protostar has such large brightness variations with a precise period that it is very difficult to explain,” said James Muzerolle of the Space Telescope Science Institute. His paper recently was published in the journal Nature.

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The Milky Way’s Center seen in Infrared

This dazzling infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows hundreds of thousands of stars crowded into the swirling core of our spiral Milky Way galaxy. In visible-light pictures, this region cannot be seen at all because dust lying between Earth and the galactic center blocks our view.

Credit: NASA/Spitzer

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10 Years of Incredible Photos from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope

For 10 years, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has been helping scientists on Earth learn more about the mysterious objects hiding in our star-studded skies. On August 25, 2003, the telescope, carrying a relatively small, 0.85-meter beryllium mirror, was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Since then, it’s been trailing the Earth on its orbit around the sun, like NASA’s Kepler spacecraft.

Spitzer stares at the heavens in infrared wavelengths, revealing the cold, distant, and dusty realms of the universe, normally invisible to eyes on Earth. In this gallery, ribbons of dust wind around massive stars, the cavities carved by hot, young stars open up like bottomless caverns, and the spiraling tendrils of a distant galaxy glisten behind a foreground nebula.

  • Helix Nebula - About 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius, the white dwarf star (visible in the very center), is the dead remnant of what was once a star like the sun. The bright red glow immediately around it is probably the dust kicked up by colliding comets that survived the death of their stellar host.
  • The Wing of the Small Magellanic Cloud - This is a region known as the “Wing” of the Small Magellanic Cloud, one of the Milky Way’s satellite dwarf galaxies. Here, Chandra X-Ray Observatory data are in purple, optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope are shown in red, green and blue, and infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope are shown in red.
  • Zeta Ophiuchi - A giant star zooming through space at 54,000 miles per hour creates a bowshock — ripples that are the result of billowing stellar winds colliding with the dust ahead of it. About 370 light-years away, it is 80,000 times brighter than the sun. It would be one of the brightest stars in the sky, but it’s invisible from Earth obscured by dust and clouds.
  • M81 - Messier 81, a relatively nearby galaxy that’s just 12 million light-years distant, is a gorgeous spiral located the northern sky in Ursa Major.
  • Bright Superbubble - Massive stars grow quickly and die young, exploding in radiant supernovae. A large cluster of these hot, young stars will generate stellar winds and shock waves that carve superbubbles into the fabric of their nurseries, like the ones seen here, about 160,000 light-years away in NGC 1929.
  • Galactic Merger - The cores of two merging galaxies form what appear to be giant blue eyes, peering out from behind a swirling red mask. Galaxies NGC 2207 and IC 2163, located about 140 million light-years from Earth, began merging relatively recently — about 40 million years ago. Eventually, the pair will form a giant cycloptic eye.
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