Serpens Cloud Core

Serpens Cloud CoreStars that are just beginning to coalesce out of cooling swaths of dust and gas can be seen in this image from the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS). Different wavelengths of infrared light has been color-coded, revealing young stars in orange and yellow, and a central cloud of gas in blue. This area is obscured in visible-light, but infrared light can travel through the dust, allowing a peek inside the stellar hatchery, but the dark region to the left of center is surrounded by so much dust that the infrared light is blocked also. Stars are just beginning to form in such dark spaces.

This star-forming region is called the Serpens Cloud Core. It’s located about 750 light-years away in Serpens (the Serpent), a constellation named after its resemblance to a snake. The region is noteworthy because it only contains stars of relatively low to moderate mass and lacks any of the massive and incredibly bright stars found in larger star-forming regions like the Orion nebula. The Sun is a moderate-mass star.

Image Credit: NASA


This red butterfly in space is a nebula, a giant cloud of gas and dust officially cataloged as W40. The “wings” of the butterfly are giant bubbles of gas being blown out by massive stars. The formation of those stars resulted in the destruction of the very cloud that helped create them. Stars form inside giant clouds of gas and dust as the force of gravity pulls material together into dense clumps. When a clump of matter reaches a critical density a star is born. Radiation and winds coming from the massive stars in W40 have blow  cosmic bubbles dispersing the gas and dust, breaking up smaller clumps of matter, and reducing or halting new star formation.

Image Credit: NASA

The Crab Nebula

In 1054, observers around the world reported the appearance of a “new star” in the direction of the constellation Taurus. The remnant of that supernova is called the Crab Nebula, and it is powered by a quickly spinning, highly magnetized neutron star called a pulsar. The pulsar was formed when the massive star ran out of its nuclear fuel and collapsed. The combination of rapid rotation and a strong magnetic field in the Crab generates an intense electromagnetic field that creates jets of matter and anti-matter moving away from both the north and south poles of the pulsar and an intense wind flowing out in the equatorial direction.

This composite image of the nebula was created with data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue and white), the Hubble Space Telescope (purple), and the Spitzer Space Telescope (pink).

Image Credit: NASA

A Magnetic Cigar

This is a composite image of the Cigar Galaxy (aka M82), a starburst galaxy about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. It combines visible starlight (gray) and a tracing of hydrogen gas (red) from the Kitt Peak Observatory, with near-infrared and mid-infrared starlight and dust (yellow) from SOFIA (a NASA telescope mounted on 747 which does infrared astronomy flying above most of the atmosphere) and the Spitzer Space Telescope.. A magnetic field detected by SOFIA shows up in the image as streamlines which seem to follow the outflows (red) generated by the burst of star formation in the nucleus of the galaxy.

Image Credits: NASA / SOFIA / E. Lopez-Rodriguez and Spitzer / J. Moustakas et al.

Infrared Orion

orion_spitzerR600hThe Orion Nebula is a stellar nursery 1,500 light-years from here. This false-color infrared view is about 40 light-years across and was assembled using data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Looking at the nebula in visible light shows many newly-formed stars. This infrared image also shows the nebula’s many protostars still in the process of formation. They show up in the red areas of the image. One of the red spots along the dark dusty filament to the left is and odd protostar cataloged as HOPS 68. It wasrecently found to have crystals of the silicate mineral olivine within its protostellar envelope.

Image Credit: NASA