NASA's Spitzer Snaps A Cool Image Of Star-Making Region

The image here was taken by the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope and shows a cloud of dust and gas that is full of bubbles inflated by wind and radiation from young, massive stars. Each of the bubbles is filled with hundreds of thousands of stars that form from dense clouds of gas and dust.

The bubbles seen in the image are gigantic spanning 10 to 30 light-years across based on what the team has gleaned of them and what they know of other similar cosmic bubbles. Determining the exact size of the bubbles from Earth is hard because the distance is hard to measure.

Particles flowing from the stars, known as stellar wind, along with the pressure of the light the stars produce can push surrounding material outward creating a distinct perimeter. The image shows an active area of star formation and is located in the Milky Way galaxy in the constellation Aquila, also known as the Eagle. The black veins that are running through the cloud are areas of especially dense and cold dust and gas where new stars are likely to form.

Spitzer sees in infrared light that is invisible to the human eye. Many nebulas such as this one are best observed in infrared light because infrared can pass through layers of dust in the galaxy while visible light tends to get blocked. The image also shows four bow shocks, which are red arks of warm dust formed as winds from fast-moving stars push aside dust grains scattered throughout the nebula.

NASA imaged this as part of The Milky Way Project, a citizen science initiative on Zooniverse.org that seeks to map star formation the galaxy. The participating citizen scientists looked through images from the Spitzer public data archive and identified as many bubbles as possible.