Green Cosmic Spider Keeps Watch Over Stellar Nursery In NASA Image

April 19, 2016

A green cosmic spider watches over stellar nursery, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) image shows.

An infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS) shows the nebula called "the Spider" or IC 417 is nursing a cluster of young stars. It lies near NGC 1931 (not in the image) and together are called "The Spider and the Fly" nebulae.

Located 10,000 light-years away in the Auriga constellation, the Spider resides in the Milky Way's outer area that is in the exact opposite position from the galactic center. Scientists, teachers and students are studying this area for the NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP) in 2015, focused on identifying new stars.

In the image, one of the biggest clusters of young stars, also known as "Stock 8," is seen to emit a green fluff. Another group of young stars toward the sinuous tail in the center and to the left is also visible. The Spitzer image clearly shows that the nebula is an active site of star formation.

The stellar image was created using the data gathered by Spitzer in its "warm mission" phase, after its coolant depleted in mid-2009. Fortunately, its design allows to effectively operate at two channels of infrared light.

Spitzer's initial mission is to identify infrared radiation and observe centers of galaxies, newly forming planetary systems and dusty stellar nurseries. The telescope's infrared eyes provide astronomers a colored view of space objects such as giant molecular clouds and extrasolar planets that might point to extraterrestrial life in other planets. Initially built to last for at least 2.5 years, Spitzer is now in its 12th year of operation.

In January, Spitzer together with Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) captured images of a brilliantly lighted arc that helped astronomers in the identification of several fugitive stars.

Images taken by Spitzer and 2MASS are archived at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) at Caltech.