Cosmic spider shows clear signs of active star formation

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Composite image of the "Spider Nebula" located on the outer edge of the Milky Way(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/2MASS)

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Captured by the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS), the Spider Nebula cuts a ghostly green figure in a new image release from NASA. The composite was captured in infrared light, a spectrum ordinarily invisible to the naked eye, though in this case common colors have been assigned to the different wavelengths allowing us to view the scene unaided.

We recently took a look at an image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, displaying a stunning vista of the Milky Way's nuclear star cluster, which is believed to veil the supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A* lurking at the heart of our galaxy. The newly-released image of the Spider Nebula represents the polar opposite of that star panorama.

The Spider Nebula lies in almost the opposite direction to the galactic center, towards the edge of the Milky Way, some 10,000 light-years distant from Earth in the constellation Auriga, also known as the "charioteer."

Infrared light captured by 2MASS with a wavelength of 1.2 microns was assigned the color blue. Wavelengths of 3.6 microns detected by Spitzer are displayed as green, while 4.5 microns appears as red.

The Spider, like the majority of nebulae in the Milky Way, is believed to be a focal point for star creation. Such activity is easy to spot in the release as the stellar winds emanating from the vast star cluster "Stock 8," which can be observed to the center-right of the image as a concentration of bright stellar bodies, have worked to disperse the otherwise well defined structure of the nebula.

Younger red stars can be observed in the earlier stages of their life-cycle clustered in a filament-like structure to the left of the central "tail" of the nebula.

Source: NASA

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