NASA Telescope captures action-packed image of cloud shaped galaxy

January 6th, 2010 - 4:54 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, January 6 (ANI): 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 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.

“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, Maryland.

“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,” he added.

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.

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 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,” he added. (ANI)

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