Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Galaxy exposes its dusty inner workings in new Spitzer image

Date:
January 11, 2010
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has captured an action-packed picture of the nearby Small Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy that looks like a wispy cloud when seen from Earth.

The infrared portrait of the Small Magellanic Cloud, taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, reveals the stars and dust in this galaxy as never seen before.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has captured an action-packed picture of the nearby Small Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy that looks like a wispy cloud when seen from Earth.

From Spitzer's perch up in space, the galaxy's clouds of dust and stars come into clear view. The telescope's infrared vision reveals choppy piles of recycled stardust -- dust that is being soaked up by new star systems and blown out by old ones.

To some people, the new view might resemble a sea creature, or even a Rorschach inkblot test. But to astronomers, it offers a unique opportunity to study the whole life cycle of stars close-up.

"It's quite the treasure trove," said Karl Gordon, the principal investigator of the latest Spitzer observations at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md. "Because this galaxy is so close and relatively large, we can study all the various stages and facets of how stars form in one environment."

The Small Magellanic Cloud, and its larger sister galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, are named after the seafaring explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who documented them while circling the globe nearly 500 years ago. From Earth's southern hemisphere, they can appear as wispy clouds. The Small Magellanic Cloud is the farther of the pair, at 200,000 light-years away.

Recent research has shown that the galaxies may not, as previously suspected, orbit around the Milky Way. Instead, they are thought to be merely sailing by, destined to go their own way. Astronomers say the two galaxies, which are both less evolved than a galaxy like ours, were triggered to create bursts of new stars by gravitational interactions with the Milky Way and with each other. In fact, the Large Magellanic Cloud may eventually consume its smaller companion.

Gordon and his team are interested in the Small Magellanic Cloud not only because it is so close and compact, but also because it is very similar to young galaxies thought to populate the universe billions of years ago. The Small Magellanic Cloud has only one-fifth the amount of heavier elements, such as carbon, contained in the Milky Way, which means that its stars haven't been around long enough to pump large amounts of these elements back into their environment. Such elements were necessary for life to form in our solar system.

Studies of the Small Magellanic Cloud therefore offer a glimpse into the different types of environments in which stars form.

The new Spitzer observations were presented today at the 215th meeting of the American Astronomical Meeting in Washington. They reveal the galaxy's youngest stars embedded in thick dust, in addition to the older stars, which spit the dust out. Taken together with visible-light observations, these Spitzer data help provide a census of the whole stellar population.

"With Spitzer, we are pinpointing how to best calculate the numbers of new stars that are forming right now," said Gordon. "Observations in the infrared give us a view into the birthplace of stars, unveiling the dust-enshrouded locations where stars have just formed."

Infrared light is color-coded in the new picture, so that blue shows older stars, green shows organic dust and red highlights dust-enshrouded star formation. Light encoded in blue has a wavelength of 3.6 microns; green is 8.0 microns; and red is 24 microns. This image was taken before Spitzer ran out of its liquid coolant in May 2009 and began its "warm" mission.

Other collaborators include: M. Meixner, M, Sewilo and B. Shiao of the Space Telescope Science Institute; M. Meade, B. Babler, S. Bracker of the University of Wisconsin at Madison; C. Engelbracht, M. Block, K. Misselt of the University of Arizona, Tucson; R. Indebetouw of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville; and J. Hora and T. Robitaille of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass.

The image includes Spitzer observations taken previously by a team led by Alberto Bolatto of the University of Maryland, College Park.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about Spitzer, visit http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/spitzer and http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer .


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Galaxy exposes its dusty inner workings in new Spitzer image." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 January 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100105111626.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2010, January 11). Galaxy exposes its dusty inner workings in new Spitzer image. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100105111626.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Galaxy exposes its dusty inner workings in new Spitzer image." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100105111626.htm (accessed August 27, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

Newsy (Aug. 23, 2014) The private spaceflight company says it is preparing a thorough investigation into Friday's mishap. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) Russian cosmonauts say they've found evidence of sea plankton on the International Space Station's windows. NASA is a little more skeptical. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space to Ground: Hello Georges

Space to Ground: Hello Georges

NASA (Aug. 18, 2014) Europe's ATV-5 delivers new science and the crew tests smart SPHERES. Questions or comments? Use #spacetoground to talk to us. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tiny Satellites, Like The One Tossed From ISS, On The Rise

Tiny Satellites, Like The One Tossed From ISS, On The Rise

Newsy (Aug. 18, 2014) The Chasqui I, hand-delivered into orbit by a Russian cosmonaut, is one of hundreds of small satellites set to go up in the next few years. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins