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The dazzling sights of Spitzer: Eight of the ten-year-old telescope's best shots of the cosmos


Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Saturday, August 24, 2013, 2:51 PM -

NASA celebrated 10 years since the launch of the Spitzer Space Telescope on Friday.

The orbiting science platform has gazed across the galaxy far and wide, finding planets, tracking comets and lighting up the stars as never before.

Here are eight of the best shots from the storied telescope, all courtesy of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The 'Downtown' Milky Way

This infrared shot is made up of some of the 800,000 frames NASA cobbled together to come up with a massive mosaic view of the inner Milky Way. In visible light, the stars would seem to be just twinkling pinpricks even on a clear night, but in this false colour image. The brightest light actually made up of thousands of young stars at the galactic centre, 26,000 light years away from Earth.

The space 'sombrero'

This new view of Messier 104, called the Sombrero Galaxy, uncovered a huge ring of dust encircling the galaxy (in red). The new findings showed the disc-shaped galaxy was actually slightly warped, suggesting a "gravitational encounter" with another galaxy.

A galactic cradle

The brightest spots in this shot of the Rho Opiuchi dark cloud are clusters of newborn stars, which NASA says is a speciality of this nebula, more than 400 light years away from Earth. 

More than three hundred of the stellar infants have been detected, on average only around 300,000 years old (our own sun is around 4.5 billion years old, and the universe's oldest known stars are older than 12 billion).

Stellar "generations"

NASA says this star-forming region, called W5, is around 6,500 light years away in the constellation Cassiopeia and, if it were visible like this to the naked eye (rather than rendered in infrared), it would seem to cover an area about the size of four full moons.

It features clusters of stars at different ages, with the white areas the youngest, while those scary red areas are heated dust.

The Helix nebula

Talk about the eye of the gods. The Helix nebula is what remains of a large star that died millions of years ago.

In this infrared shot, the red of the "pupil" represents the last layers of gas blown out by the star, with the more bluish outer bands were the first layers to be ejected. NASA says a similar fate awaits our own sun (in five billion years, so don't hold your breath).

The destructive Eta Carinae

The brightest star at the centre of this nebula, Eta Carinae, is one of the most massive in the known galaxy. It's 100 times larger than our sun, and burning so strong it's a million times brighter, according to NASA.

It's so huge it's been wreaking havoc on the nebula's dust clouds, hence the chaotic formations, and is likely to end its days as a supernova.

The sword of Orion

This fancifully-named shot shows the Orion nebula, 1,450 light years from Earth. NASA says it's basically a huge star factory, although to the naked eye it would look like a fuzzy star in the constellation Orion.

When Spitzer peeked into the depths of the nebula, it found an estimated 2,300 newborn stars still surrounded by discs of stellar material, along with another 200 at the "embryonic" stage.

Saturn's largest ring

This messy shot is a zoom of Saturn's largest ring, which Spitzer discovered when it detected heat from the planet's dusty circles.

NASA says the ring is so enormous, its diameter is as long as 300 Saturns lined up side-by-side.

For more about these awesome photos, check out Spitzer's gallery.

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