[Spitzer-news] Spitzer Captures Cosmic Mountains of Creation
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spitzer-news at lists.ipac.caltech.edu
Wed Nov 9 10:52:20 PST 2005
SPITZER CAPTURES COSMIC MOUNTAINS OF CREATION
A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope reveals billowing
mountains of dust ablaze with the fires of stellar youth.
Captured by Spitzer's infrared eyes, the majestic image resembles the
iconic "Pillars of Creation" picture taken of the Eagle Nebula in
visible light by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. Both views
feature star-forming clouds of cool gas and dust that have been sculpted
into pillars by radiation and winds from hot, massive stars.
The Spitzer image, which can be found at
http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/Media, shows the eastern edge of a region
known as W5, in the Cassiopeia constellation 7,000 light-years away.
This region is dominated by a single massive star, whose location
outside the pictured area is "pointed out" by the finger-like pillars.
The pillars themselves are colossal, together resembling a mountain
range. They are more than 10 times the size of those in the Eagle
The largest of the pillars observed by Spitzer entombs hundreds of
never-before-seen embryonic stars, and the second largest contains
"We believe that the star clusters lighting up the tips of the pillars
are essentially the offspring of the region's single, massive star,"
said Dr. Lori Allen, lead investigator of the new observations, from the
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass. "It
appears that radiation and winds from the massive star triggered new
stars to form."
Spitzer was able to see the stars forming inside the pillars thanks to
its infrared vision. Visible-light images of this same region show dark
towers outlined by halos of light. The stars inside are cloaked by walls
of dust. But infrared light coming from these stars can escape through
the dust, providing astronomers with a new view.
"With Spitzer, we can not only see the stars in the pillars, but we can
estimate their age and study how they formed," said Dr. Joseph Hora, a
co-investigator, also from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for
The W5 region and the Eagle Nebula are referred to as high-mass
star-forming regions. They start out as thick and turbulent clouds of
gas and dust that later give birth to families of stars, some of which
are more than 10 times more massive than the sun. Radiation and winds
from the massive stars subsequently blast the cloudy material outward,
so that only the densest pillar-shaped clumps of material remain. The
process is akin to the formation of desert mesas, which are made up of
dense rock that resisted water and wind erosion.
According to theories of triggered star formation, the pillars
eventually become dense enough to spur the birth of a second generation
of stars. Those stars, in turn, might also trigger successive
generations. Astronomers do not know if the sun, which formed about five
billion years ago, was originally a member of this type of extended
Allen and her colleagues believe they have found evidence for triggered
star formation in the new Spitzer image. Though it is possible the
clusters of stars in the pillars are siblings of the single massive
star, the astronomers say the stars are more likely its children.
Luis Chavarria is also a member of the investigating team at the
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. This research was
originally led by Dr. Lynne Deutsch of the Center for Astrophysics, who
passed away April 2, 2004.
For graphics and more information about Spitzer, visit
http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/spitzer/ . To view or download Hubble's
Pillars of Creation image, visit
. For more information about NASA and agency programs on the Web, visit
The image is also available in a NASA TV video file that airs beginning
at 9 a.m. Eastern time. NASA TV's Public, Education and Media channels
are available on an MPEG-2 digital C-band signal accessed via satellite
AMC-6, at 72 degrees west longitude, transponder 17C, 4040 MHz, vertical
polarization. In Alaska and Hawaii, they're on AMC-7 at 137 degrees west
longitude, transponder 18C, at 4060 MHz, horizontal polarization. A
Digital Video Broadcast compliant Integrated Receiver Decoder is
required for reception. For digital downlink information for each NASA
TV channel and access to NASA TV's Public Channel on the Web, visit
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer
mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Science operations are
conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena. JPL is a division of Caltech. NASA's Goddard
Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., built Spitzer's infrared array
camera, which took the observations. The instrument's principal
investigator is Dr. Giovanni Fazio of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for
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