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Stars Brewing in Cygnus X January 10, 2012

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NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA


A bubbling cauldron of star birth is highlighted in this new image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Infrared light that we can’t see with our eyes has been color-coded, such that the shortest wavelengths are shown in blue and the longest in red. The middle wavelength range is green.

Massive stars have blown bubbles, or cavities, in the dust and gas — a violent process that triggers both the death and birth of stars. The brightest, yellow-white regions are warm centers of star formation. The green shows tendrils of dust, and red indicates other types of dust that may be cooler, in addition to ionized gas from nearby massive stars. Cygnus X is about 4,500 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, or the Swan.

Blue represents light at 3.6 microns: 4.5-micron light is blue-green; 8.0-micron light is green; and 24-micron light is red. These data were taken before the Spitzer mission ran out of its coolant in 2009, and began its “warm” mission.


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Massive Young Stars Trigger Stellar Birth October 15, 2008

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RCW 108

X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/S.Wolk et al; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech


RCW 108 is a region where stars are actively forming within the Milky Way galaxy about 4,000 light years from Earth. This is a complicated region that contains young star clusters, including one that is deeply embedded in a cloud of molecular hydrogen. By using data from different telescopes, astronomers determined that star birth in this region is being triggered by the effect of nearby, massive young stars.

This image is a composite of X-ray data from Chandra (blue) and infrared emission detected by Spitzer (red and orange). More than 400 X-ray sources were identified in Chandra’s observations of RCW 108. About 90% of these X-ray sources are thought to be part of the cluster and not stars that lie in the field-of-view either behind or in front of it. Many of the stars in RCW 108 are experiencing the violent flaring seen in other young star-forming regions such as the Orion Nebula. Gas and dust blocks much of the X-rays from the juvenile stars located in the center of the image, explaining the relative dearth of Chandra sources in this part of the image.

The Spitzer data show the location of the embedded star cluster, which appears as the bright knot of red and orange just to the left of the center of the image. Some stars from a larger cluster, known as NGC 6193, are also visible on the left side of the image. Astronomers think that the dense clouds within RCW 108 are in the process of being destroyed by intense radiation emanating from hot and massive stars in NGC 6193.

Taken together, the Chandra and Spitzer data indicate that there are more massive star candidates than expected in several areas of this image. This suggests that pockets within RCW 108 underwent localized episodes of star formation. Scientists predict that this type of star formation is triggered by the effects of radiation from bright, massive stars such as those in NGC 6193. This radiation may cause the interior of gas clouds in RCW 108 to be compressed, leading to gravitational collapse and the formation of new stars.

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Generations of Stars in W5 September 7, 2008

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See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.


Lori Allen, Xavier Koenig (Harvard-Smithsonian CfAet al.JPL-CaltechNASA


Giant star forming region W5 is over 200 light-years across and about 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia. W5’s sculpted clouds of cold gas and dust seem to form fantastic shapes in this impressive mosaic of infrared images from the Spitzer Space Telescope. In fact, the area on the right includes the structures previously dubbed the Mountains of Creation. New evidence indicates that successive generations of stars formed in the W5 region in an expanding pattern of triggered star formation. The older, earlier generations of stars seem to cluster near the middle of the enormous cavities, with younger stars seen near the rims. Winds and radiation from the older, central stars likely carve out and compress surrounding interstellar material, triggering the collapse that gave rise to younger, later generations of stars farther out. In the false-color image, heated dust still within the cavities appears red, while the youngest stars are forming in the whitish areas. W5 is also known as IC 1848, and together with IC 1805 it is part of a complex region popularly dubbed the Heart and Soul Nebulae.

Spitzer Reveals Stellar ‘Family Tree’ August 24, 2008

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NASA/JPL-Caltech/L. Allen & X. Koenig (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA)

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Generations of stars can be seen in this new infrared portrait from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. In this wispy star-forming region, called W5, the oldest stars can be seen as blue dots in the centers of the two hollow cavities (other blue dots are background and foreground stars not associated with the region). Younger stars line the rims of the cavities, and some can be seen as pink dots at the tips of the elephant-trunk-like pillars. The white knotty areas are where the youngest stars are forming. Red shows heated dust that pervades the region’s cavities, while green highlights dense clouds.

W5 spans an area of sky equivalent to four full moons and is about 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia. The Spitzer picture was taken over a period of 24 hours.

Like other massive star-forming regions, such as Orion and Carina, W5 contains large cavities that were carved out by radiation and winds from the region’s most massive stars. According to the theory of triggered star-formation, the carving out of these cavities pushes gas together, causing it to ignite into successive generations of new stars.

This image contains some of the best evidence yet for the triggered star-formation theory. Scientists analyzing the photo have been able to show that the ages of the stars become progressively and systematically younger with distance from the center of the cavities.

This is a three-color composite showing infrared observations from two Spitzer instruments. Blue represents 3.6-micron light and green shows light of 8 microns, both captured by Spitzer’s infrared array camera. Red is 24-micron light detected by Spitzer’s multiband imaging photometer.

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