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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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