Press Release

Stormy Cloud of Star Birth Glows in New Spitzer Image

By SpaceRef Editor
January 17, 2004
Filed under , ,
Stormy Cloud of Star Birth Glows in New Spitzer Image
spitzer

A dusty stellar nursery shines brightly in a new image from
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, formerly known as the Space
Infrared Telescope Facility. Spitzer’s heat-sensing
“infrared eyes” have pierced the veiled core of the
Tarantula Nebula to provide an unprecedented peek at massive
newborn stars.

The new image is available online at
http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu and
http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA05062.

“We can now see the details of what’s going on inside this
active star-forming region,” said Dr. Bernhard Brandl,
principal investigator for the latest observations and an
astronomer at both Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and the
University of Leiden, the Netherlands.

Launched on August 25, 2003, from Cape Canaveral Air Force
Station, Florida, the Spitzer Space Telescope is the fourth
of NASA’s Great Observatories, a program that also includes
Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory
and the Hubble Space Telescope. Spitzer’s state-of-the-art
infrared detectors can sense the infrared radiation, or
heat, from the farthest, coldest and dustiest objects in the
universe.

One such dusty object is the Tarantula Nebula. Located in
the southern constellation of Dorado, in a nearby galaxy
called the Large Magellanic Cloud, this glowing cloud of gas
and dust is one of the most dynamic star-forming regions in
our local group of galaxies. It harbors some of the most
massive stars in the universe, up to 100 times more massive
than our own Sun, and is the only nebula outside our galaxy
visible to the naked eye.

While other telescopes have highlighted the nebula’s spidery
filaments and its star-studded core, none was capable of
fully penetrating its dust-enshrouded pockets of younger
stars.

The new Spitzer image shows, for the first time, a more
complete picture of this huge stellar nursery, including
previously hidden stars. The image also captures in stunning
detail a hollow cavity around the stars, where intense
radiation has blown away cosmic dust.

“You can see a hole in the cloud as if a giant hair dryer
blew away all the gas and dust,” said Brandl.

By studying this portrait of a family of stars, astronomers
can piece together how stars in general, including those
like our Sun, form.

JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s
Office of Space Science, Washington. Science operations are
conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California
Institute of Technology in Pasadena. JPL is a division of
Caltech.

Additional information about the Spitzer Space Telescope is
available at http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu.

SpaceRef staff editor.