Baby Stars Erupt to Life in Trifid Nebula
Radiation and winds from massive stars have blown a cavity into the surrounding dust and gas, creating the Trifid nebula, as seen here in infrared light by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/K. Su (Univ. of Arizona)
NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope was launched 10 years ago and has since peeled back an infrared veil on the Cosmos. The mission has worked in parallel with NASA's other "Great Observatories" (Hubble and Chandra) to provide coverage of the emissions from galaxies, interstellar dust, comet tails and the solar system's planets. But some of the most striking imagery to come from the orbiting telescope has been that of nebulae. Supernova remnants, star-forming regions and planetary nebulae are some of the most iconic objects to be spotted by Spitzer. So, to celebrate a decade in space, here are Discovery News' favorite Spitzer nebulae.
First up, the Helix Nebula -- a so-called planetary nebula -- located around 700 light-years from Earth. A planetary nebula is the remnants of the death throes of a red giant star -- all that remains is a white dwarf star in the core, clouded by cometary dust.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/B. Williams (NCSU)
Spitzer will often work in tandem with other space telescopes to image a broad spectrum of light from celestial objects. Here, the supernova remnant RCW 86 is imaged by NASA's Spitzer, WISE and Chandra, and ESA's XMM-Newton.
Staring deep into the Messier 78 star-forming nebula, Spitzer sees the infrared glow of baby stars blasting cavities into the cool nebulous gas and dust.
The green-glowing infrared ring of the nebula RCW 120 is caused by tiny dust grains called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons -- the bubble is being shaped by the powerful stellar winds emanating from the central massive O-type star.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/J. Stauffer (SSC/Caltech)
Spitzer stares deep into the Orion nebula, imaging the infrared light generated by a star factory.
X-Ray: NASA/CXC/J.Hester (ASU); Optical: NASA/ESA/J.Hester & A.Loll (ASU); Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R.Gehrz (Univ. Minn.)
In the year 1054 A.D. a star exploded as a supernova. Today, Spitzer was helped by NASA's other "Great Observatories" (Hubble and Chandra) to image the nebula that remains. The Crab Nebula is the result; a vast cloud of gas and dust with a spinning pulsar in the center.
The Tycho supernova remnant as imaged by Spitzer (in infrared wavelengths) and Chandra (X-rays). The supernova's powerful shockwave is visible as the outer blue shell, emitting X-rays.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/E. Churchwell (University of Wisconsin - Madison)
Over 2,200 baby stars can be seen inside the bustling star-forming region RCW 49.
X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ.Potsdam/L.Oskinova et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The "Wing" of the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) glitters with stars and warm clouds of dust and gas. By combining observations by Spitzer, Chandra and Hubble, the complex nature of this nebulous region can be realized.
In a recently-released view of the beautiful Trifid Nebula, NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) takes an intimate look into the effects of star birth inside the cloud of dust and gas.
The Trifid Nebula is located around 5,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius and consists of a rare combination of an open cluster of stars, an emission nebula, a reflection nebula and a dark nebula -- the latter of which creates the dark lanes of material in the main portion to create the famous 3-lobe trifid pattern.
However, in this WISE view, the dark nebula, which consists of obscuring dust in visible wavelengths, glows bright in infrared wavelengths, creating an inverted view of the Trifid Nebula when compared with visible light imagery, as seen here:
The Trifid Nebula as observed by the Wide-Field Imager camera attached to the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in northern Chile.ESO
The Trifid is alive with star formation; violent stellar winds erupt from baby stars creating large voids in the interstellar material. With the help of WISE, astronomers can dissect the region. The blue stars are comparatively old stars that lie between the nebula and Earth. The reddish region above the Trifid Nebula is dust and gas being heated by baby stars and the entire region is surrounded by the green haze of hydrogen gas.
This observation was imaged during WISE's primary all-sky survey mission between 2010 and 2011. The mission has now been renamed NEOWISE and is currently being used to detect and characterize asteroids and comets that drift close to our planet's orbit around the sun.