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Spitzer's first 'warm' images

Posted: August 06, 2009

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From star-forming pods to stellar graveyards, Spitzer opens its eyes to a new era of 'warm' observations.

Star-forming region DR22. The blue areas are dusty clouds and the orange is hot gas. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

After five and a half years of operation, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope ran out of liquid coolant, but this did not put the observatory off its stride. After a short period of re-commissioning, the telescope is back in business, now operating at a temperature of a still chilly 30 degrees Kelvin instead of just a few degrees above absolute zero.

Galaxy NGC 4145 has already made most of its stars. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The newly released pictures were snapped with the telescope's two infrared channels that still work and which are a part of the infrared array camera. In these images, 3.6 micron light is blue and 4.5 micron light is orange.

The main portrait shows the star forming factory known as DR22 located in the Cygnus region of the sky. With its infrared eyes, Spitzer can peer through dust into the star-forming nests that reside there. Spitzer also captured middle-aged galaxy NGC 4145. Located 68 million light years away in the constellation Canes Venatici, NGC 4145 has already made most of its stars and shows little sign of fresh star-forming activity.

Dying star NGC 4361 is expelling four lobes of material. Perhaps there are two dying stars hiding in the nebula. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Completing the family album is an elderly star called NGC 4361. Once like our own glorious Sun, NGC 4361 has expelled its outer layers to create shells of gas and dust known as a planetary nebula. This particular planetary nebula is unusual since it has four lobes of material reaching out into space, instead of the usual two. This has lead astronomers to suspect that there might be two dying stars hidden inside the planetary nebula, each producing a bi-polar jet.

The new images were taken between 18 and 21 July.