With the Public's Help NASA's Spitzer Telescope Sees Milky Way's Blooming Countryside

©NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Wisconsin

Dozens of newborn stars sprouting jets from their dusty cocoons have been spotted in images from the Spitzer Space Telescope.

NASA has released new images the Spitzer Space Telescope which it characterizes as showing "blooming stars in our Milky Way galaxy's more barren territories, far from its crowded core" and the public, in part, helped NASA with these images.

The images are part of the Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire (Glimpse 360) project, which NASA says is mapping the topography of our galaxy.

The map and a full 360-degree view are not complete but will be later this year and anyone with a computer can view the Glimpse images and help identify features. Specifically, the public can scour images from Glimpse data releases in search of cosmic bubbles indicative of hot, massive stars.


This infrared image shows a striking example of what is called a hierarchical bubble structure, in which one giant bubble, carved into the dust of space by massive stars, has triggered the formation of smaller bubbles. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Wisconsin.

As an example, volunteers identified a striking multiple bubble structure in a star-forming region called W39. Followup work by the researchers showed the smaller bubbles were spawned by a larger bubble that had been carved out by massive stars.

"This crowdsourcing approach really works," said Charles Kerton of Iowa State University at Ames, who also presented results. "We are examining more of the hierarchical bubbles identified by the volunteers to understand the prevalence of triggered star formation in our galaxy."


There are nearly 200 galaxies within the marked circles in this image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Wisconsin.

With respect to the images released today the NASA press release states:

"We live in a spiral collection of stars that is mostly flat, like a vinyl record, but it has a slight warp. Our solar system is located about two-thirds of the way out from the Milky Way's center, in the Orion Spur, an offshoot of the Perseus spiral arm. Spitzer's infrared observations are allowing researchers to map the shape of the galaxy and its warp with the most precision yet.

While Spitzer and other telescopes have created mosaics of the galaxy's plane looking in the direction of its center before, the region behind us, with its sparse stars and dark skies, is less charted."

"We sometimes call this flyover country," said Barbara Whitney, an astronomer from the University of Wisconsin at Madison who uses Spitzer to study young stars. "We are finding all sorts of new star formation in the lesser-known areas at the outer edges of the galaxy."


In what may look to some like an undersea image of coral and seaweed, a new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope is showing the birth and death of stars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Wisconsin.

For more information about the Milky Way project and to learn how to participate, visit: http://www.milkywayproject.org.

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