Stardust

Planck's DustNot the Hoagy Carmichael tune. The real dust out among the stars. The European Space Agency Planck Space Telescope‘s ability to measure the temperature of the coldest dust particles provides a better understanding of the physical processes at play in the spaces between stars, and in regions of star formation.

This image covers a portion of the sky about 50 degrees square. It is a false-color combination constructed from Planck‘s two highest frequency channels (557 and 857 Gigahertz, corresponding to wavelengths of 540 and 350 µm), and an image obtained at 100 µm with NASA’s Infrared Astronomical Satellite. Red corresponds to temperatures as cold 12° above absolute zero, and white to significantly warmer ones (on order a few tens of degrees) in regions where massive stars are currently forming. These dust structures “local” within 500 light-years of the sun.

Image Credit: ESA/NASA

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

Mergers and Acquisitions and Blue Blobs

galex-view-m81_m82The Hubble Space Telescope has resolved some strange objects nicknamed “blue blobs” and found them to be brilliant blue clusters of stars born in the swirls and eddies of a galactic smashup 200 million years ago. These “blue blobs” exist along a wispy bridge of gas strung among three colliding galaxies, M81, M82, and NGC 3077about 12 million light-years away from Earth. This is not a place astronomers expect to find star clusters because the gas filaments should be too thin to allow enough material to accumulate and actually build so many stars. The star clusters in this diffuse structure might have formed from gas collisions and subsequent turbulence which locally enhanced the density of the gas streams.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA

Another Stellar Nursery

This false color image from infrared data taken by the Herschel Space Observatory shows a stellar nursery about 5,000 light-years away. These dust clouds are associated with the Rosette Nebula in the constellation Monoceros. The bright smudges are cocoons of dust surrounding massive embryonic stars, which will grow up to 10 times the mass of our Sun. The small spots near the center of the image are the embryos of less massive stars.

Image Credit: ESA

Black Holes and Star Formation

The supermassive black holes lurking at the centers of galaxies draw from the disks of gas and dust that orbit them. Massive jets of matter result that affect star formation locally and farther afield. This animation shows a model of that interaction. Watch as the jets and winds from a supermassive black hole affect its host galaxy and the space hundreds of thousands of light-years away over millions of years.

Video Credit: STScI

Partly Cloudy, For Now

The Dark Cloud Lupus 4Lupus 4, a spider-shaped blob of gas and dust, blots out background stars like a dark cloud on a moonless night. Although dark and gloomy for now, dense pockets of material within such clouds are where new stars form and where they will later burst into radiant life. Lupus 4 is about 400 light-years away, straddling the constellations of Lupus (The Wolf) and Norma (The Carpenter’s Square).

Image Credit: ESO

A New Star Factory

Star cluster NGC 6193 and nebula NGC 6188Star cluster NGC 6193 is in the center of this image. It contains thirty or so bright stars and forms the heart of the Ara OB1 association (so named because it is in the southern constellation of Ara, the Altar). The two brightest stars are very hot giants. Together, they provide the main source of illumination for the nearby emission nebula, the Rim Nebula, or NGC 6188, visible to the right of the cluster.

The ultraviolet radiation and intense stellar wind from the stars of NGC 6193 seem to be driving the next generation of star formation in the surrounding clouds of gas and dust. As the gas and duct collapse, it forms new stars.

Image Credit: ESO

W40

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