Nebulae: Feeling small?

This extraordinarily beautiful image, compiled from data acquired by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope in 2009, and now formally released, shows two massive nebulae in the region of the constellation Cepheus, which can be found near the constellation Cassiopeia.

And although these towering clouds of dust and gas (nebulae) are visually magnificent, they are not – to astronomers, at least – the most interesting components of the picture.

The image also contains two infant star clusters, dubbed Cepheus C and Cepheus B. The first is visible as a small smattering of red and orange dots on the left-hand side of the larger nebula; the second – all red and blue – lies directly above the second nebula.

Back on the right hand side, deep in the gas cloud, a star with what appear to be red fans above and below it can be seen. This is V374 Ceph, a massive star surrounded by what researchers think might be a disk of dark, dusty material – the dark spaces between the fans.

And in the smaller nebula, there is a red arc. This, say the folks at NASA, is a runaway star – a high-speed wrecker powering across space. The arc is, in fact, the shock wave that precedes it.

Related reading: So long Spitzer, thanks for all the information

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