Spitzer Finds Stellar

Jan 12, 2005
Spitzer Finds Stellar

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has uncovered a hatchery for massive stars.
A new striking image from the infrared telescope shows a vibrant cloud called the Trifid Nebula dotted with glowing stellar "incubators." Tucked deep inside these incubators are rapidly growing embryonic stars, whose warmth Spitzer was able to see for the first time with its powerful heat-seeking eyes.

This image composite compares the well-known visible-light picture of the glowing Trifid Nebula (left panel) with an infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope

The new view offers a rare glimpse at the earliest stages of massive star formation – a time when developing stars are about to burst into existence.

"Massive stars develop in very dark regions so quickly that is hard to catch them forming," said Dr. Jeonghee Rho of the Spitzer Science Center, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif., principal investigator of the recent observations. "With Spitzer, it's like having an ultrasound for stars. We can see into dust cocoons and visualize how many embryos are in each of them."

The new false-color image can be found at www.spitzer.caltech.edu/Media. It was presented today at the 205th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in San Diego, Calif.

The Trifid Nebula is a giant star-forming cloud of gas and dust located 5,400 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius. Previous images taken by the Institute for Radioastronomy millimeter telescope in Spain show that the nebula contains four cold knots, or cores, of dust. Such cores are "incubators" where stars are born. Astronomers thought the ones in the Trifid Nebula were not yet ripe for stars. But, when Spitzer set its infrared eyes on all four cores, it found that they had already begun to develop warm stellar embryos.

"Spitzer can see the material from the dark cores falling onto the surfaces of the embryonic stars, because the material gets hotter as gravity draws it in," said Dr. William T. Reach of the Spitzer Science Center, co-author of this new research. "By measuring the infrared brightness, we can not only see the individual embryos but determine their growth rate."

The Trifid Nebula is unique in that it is dominated by one massive central star, 300,000 years old. Radiation and winds emanating from the star have sculpted the Trifid cloud into its current cavernous shape. These winds have also acted like shock waves to compress gas and dust into dark cores, whose gravity caused more material to fall inward until embryonic stars were formed. In time, the growing embryos will accumulate enough mass to ignite and explode out of their cores like baby birds busting out of their eggs.

Because the Trifid Nebula is home to just one massive star, it provides astronomers a rare chance to study an isolated family unit. All of the newfound stellar embryos are descended from the nebula's main star. Said Rho, "Looking at the image, you know exactly where the embryos came from. We use their colors to determine how old they are. It's like studying the family tree for a generation of stars."

Spitzer discovered 30 embryonic stars in the Trifid Nebula's four cores and dark clouds. Multiple embryos were found inside two massive cores, while a sole embryo was seen in each of the other two. This is one of the first times that clusters of embryos have been observed in single cores at this early stage of stellar development.

"In the cores with multiple embryos, we are seeing that the most massive and brightest of the bunch is near the center. This implies that the developing stars are competing for materials, and that the embryo with the most material will grow to be the largest star," said Dr. Bertrand Lefloch of Observatoire de Grenoble, France, co-author of the new research.

Spitzer also uncovered about 120 small baby stars buried inside the outer clouds of the nebula. These newborns were probably formed around the same time as the main massive star and are its smaller siblings.

Other authors of this work include Dr. Giovanni Fazio, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, Mass.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center, Pasadena, Calif. JPL is a division of Caltech.

The new Spitzer image is a combination of data from the telescope's infrared array camera and multiband imaging photometer. The infrared array camera was built by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; its development was led by Fazio. The multiband imaging photometer was built by Ball Aerospace Corporation, Boulder, Colo., the University of Arizona, Tucson, and Boeing North American, Canoga Park, Calif. The instrument's development was led by Dr.George Rieke, University of Arizona.

Source: NASA

Explore further: Habitable exoplanets are bad news for humanity

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

SMA unveils how small cosmic seeds grow into big stars

Feb 26, 2014

New images from the Smithsonian's Submillimeter Array (SMA) telescope provide the most detailed view yet of stellar nurseries within the Snake nebula. These images offer new insights into how cosmic seeds ...

The Helix nebula: Bigger in death than life

Oct 04, 2012

(Phys.org)—A dying star is refusing to go quietly into the night, as seen in this combined infrared and ultraviolet view from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX), which ...

Remnant of an explosion with a powerful kick?

Feb 02, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Vital clues about the devastating ends to the lives of massive stars can be found by studying the aftermath of their explosions. In its more than twelve years of science operations, NASA's ...

NASA's Deep Space Network turns 50

Dec 19, 2013

NASA's Deep Space Network, the world's largest and most powerful communications system for "talking to" spacecraft, will reach a milestone on Dec. 24: the 50th anniversary of its official creation.

New technique measures mass of exoplanets

Dec 19, 2013

To date, scientists have confirmed the existence of more than 900 exoplanets circulating outside our solar system. To determine if any of these far-off worlds are habitable requires knowing an exoplanet's ...

Recommended for you

Habitable exoplanets are bad news for humanity

1 hour ago

Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same size as Earth ...

Professional and amateur astronomers join forces

2 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Long before the term "citizen science" was coined, the field of astronomy has benefited from countless men and women who study the sky in their spare time. These amateur astronomers devote hours ...

First-of-its-kind NASA space-weather project

17 hours ago

A NASA scientist is launching a one-to-two-year pilot project this summer that takes advantage of U.S. high-voltage power transmission lines to measure a phenomenon that has caused widespread power outages ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Habitable exoplanets are bad news for humanity

Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same size as Earth ...

Professional and amateur astronomers join forces

(Phys.org) —Long before the term "citizen science" was coined, the field of astronomy has benefited from countless men and women who study the sky in their spare time. These amateur astronomers devote hours ...

First-of-its-kind NASA space-weather project

A NASA scientist is launching a one-to-two-year pilot project this summer that takes advantage of U.S. high-voltage power transmission lines to measure a phenomenon that has caused widespread power outages ...