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Nursery of Giants Captured in New Spitzer Image


Using infrared technology, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope reveals a stellar nursery called DR21. Typically, the bigger something is the easier it is to find. Elephants, for example, are not hard to spot. But when it comes to the massive stars making up the stellar nursery called DR21, size does not add up to visibility. These elephant stars are invisible. How can something so big go undetected? The answer is dust. DR21 is shrouded in so much space dust that no visible light escapes it. By seeing in the infrared, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has managed to pull this veil aside. The new observations reveal a firework-like display of massive stars surrounded by a stormy cloud of gas and dust. The biggest star is estimated to be 100,000 times as bright as our own Sun. Located about 10,000 light-years away in the Cygnus constellation of our Milky Way galaxy, DR21 is a dusty and turbulent nest of giant newborn stars.

Previous images taken with radio and near-infrared bands of light reveal a powerful jet emanating from a huge, nebulous cloud. But these views are just the tip of the iceberg. Spitzer's highly sensitive infrared detectors were able to see past the obscuring dust to the hotbed of star birth behind. The new view testifies to the ability of massive newborn stars to destroy the cloud that blankets them. Astronomers plan to use these observations to determine precisely how such a energetic event occurs.

Launched August 25, 2003, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Spitzer Space Telescope is the fourth of NASA's Great Observatories, a program that also includes the Hubble Space Telescope, Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and Chandra X-ray Observatory.

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by Andrew Chaikin


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