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.

Bode’s Galaxy - A Grand Design Spiral Galaxy

“A grand design spiral galaxy is a type of spiral galaxy with prominent and well-defined spiral arms, as opposed to multi-arm and flocculent spirals which have subtler structural features. The spiral arms of a grand design galaxy extend clearly around the galaxy through many radians and can be observed over a large fraction of the galaxy’s radius. Approximately 10 percent of spiral galaxies are classified as grand design type spirals.

Bode’s Galaxy, also known as M81 or NGC3031, is about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. Due to its proximity to Earth, large size and active galactic nucleus (which harbors a 70 million M(Solar Mass) super-massive black hole), M81 has been studied extensively by professional astronomers. The galaxy’s large size and relatively high brightness also make it a popular target for amateur astronomers.”

Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble, Spitzer, Wikipedia

The M81 Group - Bodes Galaxy (M81) and the Cigar Galaxy (M82)

Bodes Galaxy, also known as NGC 3031 or M81, is a spiral galaxy about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. In this image Bodes Galaxy is on the bottom. Due to its proximity to Earth, large size and active galactic nucleus (which harbors a 70 million M supermassive black hole), Messier 81 has been studied extensively by professional astronomers. The galaxy’s large size and relatively high brightness also make it a popular target for amateur astronomers.

The Cigar Galaxy, also known as NGC 3034 or M82, is a starburst galaxy about 12 million light-years away in the same constellation the previously mentioned M81. It is about five times more luminous than the whole Milky Way and one hundred times more luminous than our galaxy’s center. The starburst activity is thought to be triggered by interaction with neighboring galaxy M81, and M82 is a member of the M81 Group. As the closest starburst galaxy to our own, M82 is the prototypical example of this type of galaxy.

Credit: Jeff Weiss/NASA/ESO/

Black holes have simple feeding habits

At the center of spiral galaxy M81 is a supermassive black hole about 70 million times more massive than our sun. A study using data from Chandra and ground-based telescopes, combined with detailed theoretical models, shows that the supermassive black hole in M81 feeds just like stellar mass black holes, with masses of only about ten times that of the sun. This discovery supports Einstein’s relativity theory that states black holes of all sizes have similar properties.

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Wisconsin/D.Pooley & CfA/A.Zezas; Optical: NASA/ESA/CfA/A.Zezas; UV: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CfA/J.Huchra et al.; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CfA

M81 versus M82

Here in the Milky Way galaxy we have astronomical front row seats as M81 and M82 face-off, a mere 12 million light-years away. Locked in a gravitational struggle for the past billion years or so, the two bright galaxies are captured in this deep telescopic snapshot, constructed from 25 hours of image data. Their most recent close encounter likely resulted in the enhanced spiral arms of M81 (left) and violent star forming regions in M82 so energetic the galaxy glows in X-rays. After repeated passes, in a few billion years only one galaxy will remain. From our perspective, this cosmic moment is seen through a foreground veil of the Milky Way’s stars and clouds of dust. Faintly reflecting the foreground starlight, the pervasive dust clouds are relatively unexplored galactic cirrus, or integrated flux nebulae, only a few hundred light-years above the plane of the Milky Way.
Image Credit & Copyright: Ivan Eder

Spiral galaxy M81

M81 is a spiral galaxy about 12 million light years away that is both relatively large in the sky and bright, making it a frequent target for both amateur and professional astronomers.

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: Detlef Hartmann; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech