A space masterpiece remembered

NASA has released something of a greatest hits package for its Spitzer Space Telescope.

That’s possibly a little premature, given that its mission won’t end until next January, but the 16 striking images do celebrate 16 years of work since its launch on 25 August 2003.

This one is, in fact, a duet with the equally famous Hubble Space Telescope. They teamed up to expose the chaos that baby stars were creating 1500 light-years away in a cosmic cloud called the Orion nebula.

“This striking infrared and visible-light composite,” the original caption from 2006 said, “indicates that four monstrously massive stars at the centre of the cloud may be the main culprits in the familiar Orion constellation. The stars are collectively called the ‘Trapezium’. Their community can be identified as the yellow smudge near the centre of the image.”

Swirls of green in Hubble’s ultraviolet and visible-light view reveal hydrogen and sulfur gas that have been heated and ionized by intense ultraviolet radiation from the Trapezium’s stars. Meanwhile, Spitzer’s infrared view exposes carbon-rich molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the cloud.

You can see all 16 images – and read a little more about Spitzer’s work – here.

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