NASA's Spitzer Takes Stunning 'Family Photo' Of Cepheus Stars

An image of Cepheus B and C regions as photographed by the Spitzer Space Telescope. The observatory used it IRAC and MIPS data to create the mosaic showing young and old stars thousands of light-years away from the sun.   ( NASA/JPL-Caltech )

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has captured a portrait of multiple clusters of stars born out of the same dust and gas.

On Friday, May 31, the U.S. space agency published a mosaic showing the Cepheus C and Cepheus B regions. According to the release, scientists combined the data from Spitzer's Infrared Array Camera or IRAC and the Multiband Imaging Photometer or MIPS during the "cold" mission of the space telescope to create the stunning image.

Generational Family Portrait

The green-and-orange region represents a nebula, a giant cloud of gas and dust. NASA explained that the nebula is what is left over from a much larger cloud that has been carved away by the radiation of stars. A bright white region at the top of the photo, where the green and orange nebula seem to flow from, is the combination of four colors, each representing a different wavelength of infrared light.

At the left of the photo, peering from inside the cloud, is Cepheus C, an area where a dense concentration of gas and dust is giving birth to new stars. Eventually, the dark spot of material will be dispersed by winds produced as stars get older and die.

Cepheus C, found in the Cepheus constellation, is about 6 light-years long.

The photo also shows Cepheus B, which is slightly older than Cepheus B. An analysis made by Spitzer revealed that this cluster is about 4 to 5 million years old.

Cepheus B is a few thousand light-years away from the sun.

"In that way, the mosaic is a veritable family portrait, featuring infants, parents and grandparents of star-forming regions: Stars form in dense clouds of material, like the dark vein that makes up Cepheus C," the press release from NASA reads.

"As the stars grow, they produce winds that blow the gas and dust outward, to form beautiful, illuminated nebulas like the bright white spot at the top of the larger nebula. Finally, the dust and gas disperse, and the star clusters stand alone in space, as with Cepheus B."

Spitzer To Shut Down Later This Year

In related news, Space Flight Now noticed a recent announcement from NASA, which revealed that the operations of the Spitzer Space Telescope will end next year. Despite 16 years worth of discoveries, it did not receive enough funding to keep it going.

Astronomers initially hoped to keep the space-based observatory in operation until the James Webb Space Telescope is launched. However, NASA has recently committed to launching the long-delayed James Webb Space Telescope during the first half of 2021.

Spitzer will continue to send data to the space agency until Jan. 30, 2020.

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