Spitzer Observes Newborn Stars in a Cosmic Cocoon
27 May 2007


Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/D. Barrado y Navascués (LAEFF-INTA)

A new intriguing image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope (SST) shows young stars in a nebula (cosmic cloud) in the famous constellation Orion, the Hunter. Astronomers speculate that shockwaves from a 3-million-year-old explosion of a massive star may have stimulated the formation of these stars.

The star-birth region featured in the Spitzer image is known as Barnard 30. It is approximately 1,300 light-years distant. On sky maps, it is located just north of the star Lambda Orionis.

"When we decided to study this region, it was barely known, despite the fact that its properties made it a nice target. Our aim was to carry out a comprehensive study of the region's different properties," said Dr. David Barrado y Navascués, of the Laboratorio de Astrofísica Espacial y Física Fundamental in Madrid, Spain, who led the research.

"We now know, thanks to Spitzer, that there is a large population of low-mass stars and brown dwarfs," he added. Brown dwarfs are low-mass objects that failed to trigger the hydrogen-burning nuclear fusion reactions within their cores.

Organic molecules, known as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), were found in green wisps in the image. These carbon-based molecules can be found in the sooty exhaust from automobile and airplane engines. They also form when charcoal-broiled meats are cooked.  

Hues of orange-red visible in the cloud are due to dust particles warmed by the young stars. The extremely young stars shimmer as reddish-pink dots at the top of the cloud. Blue points throughout the image are background stars, lying along the line of sight.

Barrado y Navascués was so fascinated by this image of Barnard 30 that he decided to use it as the cover of his next astronomy textbook.

"I found the original black and white science images breathtaking, fascinating," said Barrado y Navascués.

"Once I saw the color image, it was clear it had to be the cover of the book. From the aesthetical point of view, [the image] is beautiful, it catches the eye. From the astronomical point of view, it has everything an astronomer wants -- high- and low-mass stars, brown dwarfs and a dark dust cloud. It is a gift from nature."

Barrado y Navascués' textbook was inspired by his one-year-old astronomical reference blog, Cuaderno de Bitacora Estelar, one of the most popular Spanish astronomy blogs. He decided to turn this blog into a textbook a few months ago, in response to a suggestion from a Spanish editorial company.

"After hesitating and a lot of thinking about how to do it, we decided to go ahead," said Barrado y Navascués. "As far as we know, it is one of the first blogs to be converted into a book in Spanish. It is possibly the first academic blog to undergo such a conversion and, for sure, the first related to astronomy."

Further Reading



Aymen Mohamed Ibrahem

Senior Astronomy Specialist

News Center

First Lego League 2022