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Out There

From the newly “warm” Spitzer infrared satellite, a reminder that the universe is an ongoing creation, far from done with its inscrutable business.


The images above show, clockwise from left, a cloud bursting with stars in the Cygnus region of the Milky Way galaxy, revealing young stars “tucked in dusty nests” in the poetic language of the official Spitzer website; a “classic” spiral galaxy called NGC 4145, located approximately 68 million light-years from Earth; and a nearby dying star—a planetary nebula called NGC 4361 whose outer layers expand outward in the rare form of four jets.

Below is an image from the Spitzer’s “cold era,” which lasted from its launch in August 2003 until it ran out of the coolant that chilled its infrared instruments in May 2009. The galaxy, called NGC 1097, is located 50 million light-years from Earth. The “eye” at the center of the spiral galaxy is actually an enormous black hole—about 100 million times the mass of our sun—the ring around it bright with newly formed stars.

It’s interesting to note that many of these startling images from space are a combination of art and observation, either “false color” images that help enhance details or colorized interpretations of infrared (heat) data. That is, if you were traveling out in space, the actual view would be considerably less psychedelic.

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