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APOD: Birthplace of massive stars August 29, 2008

Posted by Sarah in science.
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Today’s APOD image is very impressive – AND taken in the infrared with the excellent Spitzer Space Telescope. It shows one of our galaxy’s best-known regions where massive stars are being born, called W5. It lies about 6500 light years away and measures over 200 light years across.

Generations of Stars in W5 Credit Lori Allen, Xavier Koenig (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA) et al., JPL-Caltech, NASA

Generations of Stars in W5 Credit Lori Allen, Xavier Koenig (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA) et al., JPL-Caltech, NASA

The formation of massive stars, usually defined as stars more than ~8 times the mass of the Sun, is not as well-understood as the processes that form the low- and intermediate-mass types like the Sun. This is partly due to the fact that they’re much rarer in the Universe than your bog-standard Sun-type star, and they have much shorter lifetimes (millions rather than billions of years) – live fast, die young, so to say. And because they spend much of their earliest years enshrouded in large dust clouds, all the visible light they emit is blocked by the clouds. This is why astronomers need infrared telescopes like Spitzer to peer into the cores of these massive star nurseries.

The beautiful structures seen in the image are made of gas and dust that is being blasted away by the energy of the new stars.

The paper describing the Spitzer findings was written by Koenig et al, and published in the Astrophysical Journal, 2008.

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