Saturday, February 20, 2010

Spitzer Space Telescope

This is the second post in my three post series about the space telescopes (I wrote about them here). You can read my previous post about Hubble here.

Spitzer Space Telescope
- The Wallpaper factory

Spitzer rendered against an infrared (100 micron) sky

This time I'll talk about Spitzer, which is looking into the universe in the infrared range (IR is commonly referred to as heat).
The great thing about Spitzer is that it can penetrate dust and gas, which blocks Hubble from seeing through them. So we can get amazing images of galaxies hidden behind cosmic dust or get better images of the centre of our own galaxy (which is also hidden by dust and gas).

You may not know Spitzer as well as you know Hubble, but I'll bet you've seen Spitzer's images at some point and thought 'Wow!' (The pretty Spitzer images are sometimes images combined with Hubble/Chandra images).

There's a gallery of Spitzer media here.

Remember: As always, you can click all images in this post to learn more about it. 

Cool Spitzer
The first one I'll post is a recent one, from the SAGE-SMC survey (SMC is Small Magellanic Cloud, which is a dwarf galaxy close to the Milky Way)

 SMC in infrared (I've borrowed the picture from Universe Today)

This image is just stunningly beautiful. And full of astronomical science.
The SAGE mission (Surveying the Agents of Galaxy Evolution) is about studying the life cycles of galaxies and in this picture you can see stars of different ages (this is true about pretty much all the galaxy images you'll see). Older stars are in blue and younger stars are red/green/yellow (the green dust on the right is from our own galaxy).
That's pretty cool.

The next on is stars being born (yellow circles) in the centre of our own galaxy. Amazing that stars can be created in such a chaotic place.

Newborn stars

The next image is absolutely amazing. It is of a large nebula (the Omega Nebula) where a large group of stars in the centre (yellow circle) is tearing apart the nebula with their fierce solar winds.
The enlarged area shows how a bow shock, much like on a boat, is creating where the stellar winds of massive stars meet and the gas is being forced around massive stars. Awesome.

Omega Nebula

Warm Spitzer
During 2009 Spitzer ran out of liquid helium and NASA had to shut down one of its infrared channels. But that doesn't stop the telscope from producing magnificent pictures of our universe.

The image is of a huge cosmic cloud of dust (blue) and gas (red).

First image from a Warm Spitzer

The last image is of a dying star. Much like our own star (the Sun) will eventually bloat up and expel most of its mass to the universe in an enormous cloud, the star NGC 4361 is now dying, encased in an expanding sarcophagus of its own matter. The red cloud is the matter than the star pushed out as it went through its dying phases.

A dying star

More images from Spitzer
As you can see, Spitzer produces amazing pictures.You can see a gallery of more Spitzer images here. It's well worth a look.