Spitzer captures childhood, middle age, and maturity of stars in one image

spitzer image cepheus c pia23126 16 1
A mosaic by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope of the Cepheus C and Cepheus B regions. This image combines data from Spitzer’s IRAC and MIPS instruments. NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Spitzer telescope has captured a stunning images of a pair of nebulas containing the star clusters Cepheus B and Cepheus C.

The majority of the image shows the main nebula, which is a cloud of dust and gas that appears in green and orange. The bright red region at the top right is the tip of the nebula, where bright stars give out radiation which heats the dust and creates a glow. These bright, massive stars are part of a star cluster which extends beyond the edges of the image. This region is the remains of a larger cloud which has been whittled down by radiation from the stars over time.

There is a second, smaller nebula visible on the right hand side of the image. The cluster of pink and white lights in the bottom right are a young nebula which includes a “runaway star.” The runaway is the blue star with a red arc around in the right-hand middle of the image. The red arc is a shockwave caused by the star traveling through the nebula at high speed, creating a bow of matter in front of it.

Another feature visible on the left hand middle of the image is a band of darker color in the nebula. This area is called Cepheus C, and is a dense area of dust and gas which acts as a stellar nursery. Stars are rapidly born here due to the density of materials which allow them to form. As these baby stars grow they produce winds which push away nearby dust, creating more pockets of dense material. This process produces the beautiful shapes of the nebula. Eventually, when the dust clears, the stars remain in their clusters like those in the top right of the image, which is Cepheus B.

This image is compiled from data from two different instruments: Spitzer’s Infrared Array Camera (IRAC) and the Multiband Imaging Photometer (MIPS). The IRAC instrument collects data in the near- and mid-infrared spectrum (wavelengths between 3.6 and 8.0 microns), and the MIPS collects data in the far-infrared spectrum (wavelengths of 24, 70 and 160 microns).

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