Cosmic Epic Unfolding Infrared Wonders: The Spitzer


On a Voyage to Detect Infrared Radiation

Launched in 2003, the Spitzer Space Telescope (SST) is the final mission in NASA’s Great Observatories Program – a family of four space-based observatories including Hubble Space Telescope (HST), Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory (CGRO), and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory (CXO), designed to observe the universe in a different kind of light. Specifically designed to detect infrared heat radiation, Spitzer allows the scientists to examine cosmic regions that are hidden from optical telescopes, including dusty stellar nurseries, the centers of galaxies, and newly forming planetary systems. Besides, on its 17 years of duty, Spitzer’s sensitive infrared eyes have enabled the astronomers to investigate cooler objects in space such as failed stars (brown dwarfs), extra-solar planets, giant molecular clouds, and organic molecules that may hold the secret to life on other planets.

The Seven Sisters (Pleiades)

Figure 1: The Seven Sisters (Pleiades)

This majestic view of The Seven Sisters (the Pleiades), is a new infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which seems to float on a bed of feathers surrounded by clouds of dust sweeping around the stars, swaddling them in a cushiony veil. The Pleiades, located more than 400 light-years away in the Taurus constellation, is the subject of many legends and writings such as in Greek mythology and this image highlights the “tangled silver braid” mentioned in a poem by Tennyson. This spider-web-like network of filaments, colored yellow, green, and red in this view, is made up of dust associated with the cloud through which the cluster is traveling.

The Eagle Nebula

Figure 2: The Eagle Nebula

This image taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope narrates an untold story of life and death in the Eagle nebula, an industrious star-making factory located 7,000 light-years away in the Serpens constellation. It shows the region’s entire network of turbulent clouds and newborn stars in infrared light. This image is a composite of infrared light detected by Spitzer’s infrared array camera and multiband imaging photometer. Here, blue is 4.5-micron light; green is 8-micron light and red is 24-micron light.

Stars Adorn Orion’s Sword

Figure 3: Stars Adorn Orion’s Sword

This image captured by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows what lies near the sword of the constellation Orion, an active stellar nursery comprised of thousands of young stars and developing proto-stars. Many of them turn out to be similar to our sun, while some others are even more massive. These massive stars light up the Orion nebula, which is seen here as the bright region near the center of the image. There is a dark filamentary cloud of cold dust and gas in the north of the Orion nebula, and it is over 5 light-years in length and contains ruby red proto-stars that jewel the hilt of Orion’s sword. These are the newest generation of stars in this stellar nursery and include the proto-star HOPS 68, where Spitzer spotted tiny green crystals in a surrounding cloud of gas.

Stars Gather in ‘Downtown’ Milky Way

Figure 4: Stars Gather in ‘Downtown’ Milky Way

Giving an extraordinary view, the region around the center of our Milky Way galaxy glows colorfully in this new version of an image taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, in which infrared light penetrates the shroud of dust. At a distance of 26,000 light-years away from Earth, it is so distant that, to Spitzer’s view, most of the light from the thousands of individual stars is blurred into a single glowing blotch. Astronomers have determined that these stars are orbiting a massive black hole that lies at the very center of the galaxy.

Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 1

Figure 5: Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 1

This 24-micron image of P/SW-1 of the periodic comet Schwassmann-Wachmann I was obtained with Spitzer’s multiband imaging photometer. The image shows thermal infrared emission from the dusty coma and tail of the comet. The dust and gas comprising the comet’s nucleus is part of the same primordial materials from which the Sun and planets formed from, billions of years ago. Scientists believe that the complex carbon-rich molecules they contain may have provided some of the raw materials from which life originated on Earth.

The Jack-o-Lantern Nebula

Figure 6: The Jack-o-Lantern Nebula

The above image shows infrared light which is invisible to the human eye, has been captured by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope on this carved-out cloud of gas and dust. Astronomers have nicknamed this the “Jack-o’-lantern Nebula” since it looks like a cosmic hollowed-out pumpkin. Besides, this image is a high-contrast version in which the red wavelength is more pronounced and it highlights the contours in the dust as well as the densest regions of the nebula, which appear brighter.

The Whirlpool Galaxy

Figure 7: The Whirlpool Galaxy in Visible and Infrared Light

This image shows the Whirlpool galaxy, also known as Messier 51 and NGC 5194/5195; a pair of galaxies residing in the constellation Canes Venatici, located approximately 23 million light-years away. The Spitzer Space Telescope captured the infrared portions of this picture; emphasizing how the dark dust veins that block our view in visible light begin to light up at these longer, infrared wavelengths.

As NASA’s premier and landmark orbiting infrared observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope has provided a unique, infrared view of the universe and has allowed the astronomers to peer into regions of space that are hidden from optical telescopes. Spending more than 16 years to gather information on the origin, evolution, and composition of planets and smaller bodies, stars, galaxies, and the universe as a whole, the amazing discoveries captured by this spacecraft have offered a myriad of chances to explore the “invisible” with unprecedented clarity and sensitivity.

Image Courtesies:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top
error: Content is protected !!