An Infrared Web

Like a spider’s web swirled into a spiral, Galaxy IC 342 appears as a delicate pattern of dust. Captured in infrared light by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, faint starlight gives way to the glowing bright patterns of dust found throughout the galaxy’s disk. IC 342 is relatively close by galactic standards, only about 10 million light-years away, however our vantage point places it directly behind the disk of our own Milky Way. The intervening dust makes it difficult to see in visible light, but infrared light penetrates easily.

IC 342 is nearly face-on to us, giving a clear, top-down view of the structure of its disk. It’s surface appears fairly dim compared to other spiral galaxies, indicating a lower density of stars (seen here as a blue haze). Its dust structures show up much more vividly (red). (The blue dots are stars closer to us in our own Milky Way.) New stars are forming in the disk at a rapid rate. The center glows brightly in the infrared because of an enormous burst of star formation in this tiny region. A small band of dust and gas on either side of the central region is helping to fuel the star formation.

Data from Spitzer’s infrared array camera are shown in blue (3.6 microns), green (4.5 microns) and red (5.8 and 8.0 microns).

Image Credit: NASA

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