Space telescope's new survey of outer galaxy helps astronomers study stars

Aug 30, 2010
Massimo Marengo, left, and Charles Kerton are using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope's infrared images to study stars. Credit: Photo by Bob Elbert/Iowa State University

The Spitzer Space Telescope is now taking aim at the outer reaches of the Milky Way and helping two Iowa State University astronomers advance their star studies.

Massimo Marengo, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, is using data from Spitzer's to study big, cool-temperature stars and the dusty disks that forms around these and other stars as their planetary systems evolve. He is a co-author of a new paper that describes how tight double-star systems could be efficient "destroyers of worlds" because planet collisions may be common within the systems. The paper was published in the Aug. 19 issue of The .

Charles Kerton, as associate professor of physics and astronomy, is using Spitzer data to study star-forming regions of our galaxy. He is co-author of a new paper that uses Spitzer images to identify regions within the inner Milky Way that are forming intermediate-mass stars. The paper was published in the August issue of The Astronomical Journal.

NASA's launched Aug. 25, 2003, into an orbit of the sun. Its 33.5-inch diameter telescope and three scientific instruments are designed to detect infrared or . To do that, the telescope assembly had to be cooled to within a few degrees of absolute zero (or -459 degrees Fahrenheit). The telescope ran out of coolant last summer but is still able to collect data with its two shortest-wavelength detectors.

One of the telescope's initial tasks was to survey the Milky Way's dusty, star-filled center. The telescope, as part of an astronomy survey called GLIMPSE360, is now pointed toward outer regions of the galaxy and is beginning to send images of those remote areas. The survey is led by Barbara Whitney, a senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

Iowa State's Kerton and Marengo say the space telescope is an important part of their science.

"It lets me see objects that are obscured," said Kerton, who helped plan the GLIMPSE360 survey. "It allows me to detect young, newly formed stars that wouldn't be seen any other way. And it shows them at a resolution that helps us understand what we're seeing."

Where old surveys showed a single blob, Kerton said, the Spitzer images show a cluster of stars.

Marengo started working with the Spitzer experiment before it launched. When he was on the staff of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., he was part of the instrument group that built and calibrated Spitzer's hardware.

"Spitzer is really, really sensitive," Marengo said. "The first time it was turned on - before it was even calibrated - a 10-second exposure provided the equivalent depth of an exposure that used to take 10 hours with the 10-meter Keck telescope, the largest on Earth."

That, he said, is a big advantage when astronomers are trying to observe very cool, faint stars. And for his work, he said there are no ground telescopes that can match Spitzer's capabilities.

And now that the Spitzer Space Telescope is pointed away from the better-known inner galaxy, Kerton and Marengo said it will help astronomers understand unexplored parts of our galaxy through the end of the GLIMPSE360 survey early next year.

"Spitzer is getting farther and farther away," Marengo said. "And it's revealing more year by year."

Explore further: Quest for extraterrestrial life not over, experts say

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Galactic survey reveals a new look for the Milky Way

Aug 16, 2005

The Milky Way, it turns out, is no ordinary spiral galaxy. According to a massive new survey of stars at the heart of the galaxy by Wisconsin astronomers, including professor of astonomy Edward Churchwell and professor of ...

Spitzer Witnessed Galactic Collision

Sep 10, 2004

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has set its infrared sight on a major galactic collision and witnessed not death, but a teeming nest of life. The colliding galaxies, called the Antennae galaxies, are in the ...

Planets Living on the Edge

Dec 17, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Some stars have it tough when it comes to raising planets. A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows one unlucky lot of stars, born into a dangerous neighborhood. The stars themselves ...

'Big baby' galaxy found in newborn Universe

Sep 28, 2005

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have teamed up to 'weigh' the stars in distant galaxies. One of these galaxies is not only one of the most distant ever seen, but it appears to be unusually ...

Seeing the Cosmos Through 'Warm' Infrared Eyes

Aug 05, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has taken its first shots of the cosmos since warming up and starting its second career. The infrared telescope ran out of coolant on May 15, 2009, more than ...

Recommended for you

Quest for extraterrestrial life not over, experts say

Apr 18, 2014

The discovery of an Earth-sized planet in the "habitable" zone of a distant star, though exciting, is still a long way from pointing to the existence of extraterrestrial life, experts said Friday. ...

Continents may be a key feature of Super-Earths

Apr 18, 2014

Huge Earth-like planets that have both continents and oceans may be better at harboring extraterrestrial life than those that are water-only worlds. A new study gives hope for the possibility that many super-Earth ...

Exoplanets soon to gleam in the eye of NESSI

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument (NESSI) will soon get its first "taste" of exoplanets, helping astronomers decipher their chemical composition. Exoplanets are planets ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.