A snake with stars in its belly

In time for Halloween, NASA has captured an image of a snake-like cloud formation that appears to be slithering through the galaxy. The space agency said that the image, take by the Spitzer Space Telescope, depicts "the core of a thick, sooty cloud large enough to swallow dozens of solar systems."

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Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This image was sent out as an
animated gif in NASA's e-card.

Such clouds are so filled with dust that they're normally invisible to optical telescopes, but Spitzer's heat-seeking infrared vision can "see" the formation, which is located about 11,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius.

Scientists believe that by studying clouds like this they can better understand how massive stars form. For example, yellow and orange spots in the image illustrate massive stars just beginning to take shape. And NASA calls the bright red spot at the center of the snake "a monstrous stellar embryo, with about 20 to 50 times the mass of our sun."

"The snake is an ideal place to hunt for massive forming stars as they have not had time to heat up and destroy the cloud they are born in," Sean Carey, of NASA's Spitzer Science Center, said in a statement.

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