Celebrate Spitzer’s 16th birthday with these 16 beautiful space images

spitzer 16 images 11 pia13845 640x640 1
The North America nebula NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Spitzer Telescope launched 16 years ago, in August 2003. To celebrate its sweet 16, NASA has shared 16 of the most beautiful space images captured by the infrared telescope.

In the image above, blue hues represent visible light, while red and green represent infrared light.

spitzer 16 images 1 pia16604 640x580
The giant star Zeta Ophiuchi NASA/JPL-Caltech

Zeta Ophiuchi is an enormous star which creates epic solar winds. The winds are so strong that they create shock waves, which you can see in reddish-orange, radiating out from the star.

spitzer 16 images 2 pleiades 640x640 1
The Pleiades star cluster NASA/JPL-Caltech

This beautiful cluster is the Seven Sisters, also known as Pleiades, and is a favorite target among amateur astronomers.

spitzer 16 images 3 pia10181 640x309 1
The Rho Ophiuchi nebula NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

In the Rho Ophiuchi nebula you can see baby stars being born beneath a blanket of dust. The dust is essential for star formation — it’s what gravitates together to form clumps and then, eventually, stars.

spitzer 16 images 4 helix 1
The Helix nebula. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The striking Helix nebula is all that remains of a star that was once like our Sun. When the star died, it gave off gases which form the nebula around the hot core of the star, known as a white dwarf.

spitzer 16 images 5 pia17257 640x640 1
The Tortured Clouds of Eta Carinae NASA/JPL-Caltech

Glowing bright in the center of this image is the star Eta Carinae, which at 100 times the mass of the sun is one of the most massive stars in our galaxy.

spitzer 16 images 6 pia07899 640x358 1
Messier 104 – also called the Sombrero galaxy NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI

This charmingly shaped object is known as the Sombrero galaxy for obvious reasons. From earth we see it edge on, which is why it appears so wide and short.

spitzer 16 images ssc2003 06c1 1024
Spiral Galaxy Messier 81 NASA/JPL-Caltech/S. Willner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

The galaxy Messier 81, on the other hand, we see much more face-on. The dust in this image is particularly visible, glowing pink as it is illuminated by forming stars.

spitzer 16 images 7 m82 640x640 1
Messier 82 – also known as the Cigar galaxy NASA/JPL-Caltech

More young stars are active in Messier 82, known as the Cigar galaxy due to its shape. With visible light, the galaxy looks long and thin. But in Spitzer’s infrared image, it glows with red clouds of dust.

spitzer 16 images 14 pinwheel 640x640 1
Messier 101, also known as the Pinwheel Galaxy NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/CXC

Unlike the other images which Spitzer captured using infrared light, this image of the Pinwheel galaxy is composed from visible light, ultraviolet, and X-ray images from Hubble, the Galaxy Evolution Explorer’s Far Ultraviolet detector (GALEX), and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory as well as Spitzer’s infrared data.

spitzer 16 images 9 pia03296 640x640 1
The Cartwheel galaxy NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/CXC

Another composite image, this shows ripples in the Cartwheel galaxy (the blue, green, and purple ring) caused by the collision of two galaxies.

spitzer 16 images 8 pia01322 640x640 1
The Orion nebula NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI

The famous Orion nebula is a favorite location to image for both Spitzer and Hubble, and combining data from the two telescopes shows the many details of the swirling gas.

spitzer 16 images 10 pia20357 640x360 1
The Spider Nebula NASA/JPL-Caltech/2MASS

More illuminated dust is visible in this image of the Spider nebula, created using data from Spitzer and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS).

spitzer 16 images 13 lmc 640x462 1
The center of the Milky Way galaxy. NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI

The heart of our galaxy is a bustling hub of activity, as shown in this image of the Sagittarius constellation.

spitzer 16 images 12 640x640 1
The Large Magellanic Cloud NASA/JPL-Caltech

One of our galactic neighbors, the Large Magellanic Cloud, is captured in infrared to show its sea of dust.

spitzer 16 images pia23126 640x277 1
The Cepheus C and Cepheus B regions NASA/JPL-Caltech

In this image of the Cepheus C and B regions, a gas nebula glows green and orange, while the red tip of the nebula is an active area with bright stars giving off radiation and heating the gas until it glows.

Editors' Recommendations