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

The First Recorded Supernova

This image combines data from four space telescopes to create a multi-wavelength view of all that remains of RCW 86, the oldest documented example of a supernova. Chinese astronomers witnessed the event in A. D. 185, recording a “guest star” that remained in the sky for eight months. X-ray images from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton Observatory were combined to form the blue and green colors in the image. The X-rays show the interstellar gas that has been heated to millions of degrees by the passage of the shock wave from the supernova. Infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and WISE, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, shown in yellow and red, reveal dust radiating at a temperature of several hundred degrees below zero, warm by comparison to normal dust in our Milky Way galaxy.

Astronomers were able to determine from the X-ray and Infrared data that the cause of the explosion was a Type 1a supernova. In a Type 1a  supernova an otherwise-stable white dwarf or dead star is pushed beyond the brink of stability when a companion star dumps material onto it.

Scientists also used the data to solve another mystery surrounding the remnant: how it got to be so large in such a short amount of time. By blowing away wind prior to exploding, the white dwarf was able to clear out a huge cavity, a region of very low-density surrounding the system. The explosion into this cavity was able to expand much faster than it otherwise would have. This is the first time that this type of cavity has been verified around a white dwarf system prior to explosion. Scientists say the results may have significant implications for theories of white-dwarf binary systems and Type Ia supernovae.

RCW 86 is approximately 8,000 light-years away. At about 85 light-years in diameter, it occupies a region of the sky in the southern constellation of Circinus that covers slightly more of the sky than the full moon.

Image Credit: NASA / ESA

A Herbig-Haro Object

HH 46:47This picture was assembled from combined observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and ESO’s Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. It reveals the throes of stellar birth in an object known as HH 46/47.

HH or Herbig-Haro objects form when particle jets shot out by newborn stars collide with surrounding matter, producing small, bright, nebulous regions. The dynamics within many HH objects are obscured from observation with visible light by the enveloping gas and dust, but the infrared and submillimeter light seen by Spitzer and ALMA, respectively, cuts through the cloud around HH 46/47. (Infrared light has longer wavelengths than what we see with our eyes, and submillimeter wavelengths are longer still.)

In this false-color image the shorter-wavelength light appears blue and longer-wavelength light, red. Blue shows gas energized by the outflowing jets. Green traces a combination of hydrogen gas molecules and dust that follows the boundary of the gas cloud surrounding the young star. The red areas are excited carbon monoxide gas.

Image Credit: NASA / ESO

A Deeper View

The image on the left is a visible-light view of the Trifid Nebula. The other three are infrared views taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope. The Trifid Nebula is a large star-forming cloud of gas and dust about 5,400 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius. The false-color Spitzer images allow us to look inside the dark lanes of dust are visible trisecting the nebula in the visible-light picture and see regions of star-forming activity. Spitzer uncovered 30 massive embryonic stars and 120 smaller newborn stars in the nebula. The new stars are visible in the Spitzer images as yellow or red spots.

Image Credit: NASA

The Orion Nebula in IR

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

A Spaced-Out Brain

exposed_craniumThe brain-like blob called PMR 1 has been nicknamed the “Exposed Cranium.” This planetary nebula, located roughly 5,000 light-years away in the Vela constellation, is host to a hot, massive dying star that is rapidly losing its mass. The nebula’s interior, mushy and red in this view, is made up primarily of ionized gas, while its cooler outer consists of glowing hydrogen molecules.

In this infrared image taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope light at wavelengths of 3.6 µm is rendered in blue, 4.5 µm in green, and 8.0 µm in red.

Image Credit: NASA

Multiwavelength Data Sonification: The Galactic Center

This reimagines combined x-ray, visible light, and infrared data from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Spitzer Space Telescope as sound rather than an image.

Video Credit: NASA

A Galaxy on Edge

Spiral Galaxy NGC 4565NGC 4565 is sometimes called the Needle Galaxy. It’s an edge-on spiral galaxy located about 30 million light-years away in the constellation Coma Berenices (Berenice’s Hair). Its bright yellowish central bulge juts out above impressive dust lanes. Its shape suggested that it is a barred spiral galaxy, and Spitzer Space Telescope data confirmed the presence of a central bar.

Image Credit: ESO

A Cloud of Cosmic Chaos

This composite view of the Orion Nebula was assembled using imaged from the Hubble and Spritzer Space Telescopes. Hubble’s visible light and UV images show hydrogen and sulfur that have been ionized but intense UV radiation from a group of massive stars in this star-forming region. Spitzer’s infrared data reveals carbon-rich molecules in the cloud. And both sets of images are filled with a rainbow of dots of stars.

Image Credit: NASA

An Infrared View of the Trifid Nebula

The Trifid Nebula, aka M20, is easy to find with a small telescope. It’s a well known object in the nebula rich constellation Sagittarius. Visible light pictures show the nebula divided into three parts by dark, obscuring dust lanes, but this infrared image reveals filaments of luminous gas and newborn stars. This false-color view was taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope. The Trifid is about 30 light-years across and around 5,500 light-years away.

Image Credit: NASA

A Cosmic Bullseye

This false color image of galaxy NGC 1921 was taken in infrared light by the Spitzer Space Telescope. The outer red ring is filled with new stars that are igniting and heating up surrounding dust which glows in infrared light. The stars in the center of the galaxy produce shorter-wavelength infrared light which is color-coded blue. The old stars in the center have long ago gobbled up the available gas supply, the fuel for making new stars.

NGC 1921 is roughly 12 billion years old. It is known as a barred galaxy because a central bar of stars (which appears as a blue S in this view) dominates its center. When barred galaxies are young and gas-rich, the stellar bars draw gas toward the center, feeding star formation there. As that star-making fuel runs out, the central regions calm down, and star-formation activity moves to the outskirts of a galaxy. There, spiral density waves and resonances induced by the central bar help gas coalesce into stars. The red outer ring is such s resonance location, where gas is being trapped and new stars ignited.

Image Credit: NASA

A Wide Spectrum Look at M101

It’s one of the last entries in Charles Messier’s famous catalog, but M101 is definitely not one of the least. The galaxy is big—roughly 170,000 light-years across, almost twice the size of our own Milky Way Galaxy. This multiwavelength view is a composite of images recorded by space-based telescopes. Color coded from X-rays to infrared wavelengths (high to low energies), the image data was taken from the Chandra X-ray Observatory (x-rays, purple), the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (ultraviolet, blue), the Hubble Space Telescope (visible light, yellow), and the Spitzer Space Telescope (infrared, red). While the X-ray data shows the multimillion degree gas around M101’s exploded stars and neutron star and black hole binary star systems, the lower energy data shows the stars and dust that define M101’s grand spiral arms. Known as the Pinwheel Galaxy, M101 lies within the boundaries of the northern constellation Ursa Major. It’s about 25 million light-years away.

Image Credit: NASA

Inside the Flame Nebula

NGC 2024Stars are often born in clusters, in giant clouds of gas and dust. This composite image shows one such cluster, NGC 2024, which is found in the center of the Flame Nebula about 1,400 light years from Earth. X-rays from the Chandra X-ray Observatory are shown in purple, and infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope are colored red, green, and blue.

Image Credit: NASA