NASA's dazzling photo of a star factory in a serpent

NASA image of the Serpens Cloud Core turns invisible light into a beautiful portrait of a place where stars, like ours, are born.

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As nurseries go, it doesn't get more beautiful than this. NASA/JPL-Caltech/2MASS

Our sun wasn't always the hothead it is today. At one time, over 4.5 billion years ago, it was a nothing more than some cool dust and gas, free-floating in space. Eventually that dust and gas coalesced, heated up, and became responsible for lifeguards covering their noses in white zinc oxide paste at the beach.

In the photo above, NASA scientists added visible light to normally invisible infrared wavelengths so that we could see a star-birthing cloud -- with its attendant newbie stars -- that might look like the cloud our own sun came from. Known as the Serpens Cloud Core, this star factory is located about 750 light-years away in the constellation named Serpens, or the Serpent.

In the image, the infrared light from the young stars was assigned the colors of yellow and orange, while the cool cloud from which they came is in light blue. If you look to the left of the cloud, you'll see what looks like a black line.

"The dark patch to the left of center is swaddled in so much dust, even the infrared light is blocked," said NASA in a statement about the image. "It is within these dark wombs that stars are just beginning to take shape."

Many stars in this section of the galaxy are similar to ours in that they are considered "moderate mass" stars. However, whether our sun "formed in a low-mass stellar region like Serpens, or a high-mass stellar region like Orion, is an ongoing mystery," said NASA. The space agency also said that the Serpens Cloud Core contains "one of the youngest collections of stars ever seen in our galaxy."

To create this image, NASA compiled 82 photos that were taken by 16.2 hours of observation by the space agency's Spitzer Space Telescope. The telescope, which was launched into orbit around the Earth and sun in 2003 ran out of liquid coolant in 2009 (as planned), and it's now on what's known as its "warm mission." It specializes in reading infrared light, which can travel through the vast distances in space, even through the dust of star factories like the Serpens Cloud Core.

About the author

Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for Crave and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.

 

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