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Spitzer Space Telescope images bubbly interstellar nebula rich in newborn stars

By Brooks Hays
Spitzer Space Telescope images bubbly interstellar nebula rich in newborn stars
With the help of citizen scientists, astronomers at NASA are mapping bubbles and bow shocks produced by new stars in dense Milky Way nebulae. Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech

Sept. 30 (UPI) -- New images captured by the Spitzer Space Telescope suggest parts of the Milky Way are bubbling over, like a pot of boiling water.

The bubbles reveal the region's intense rate of star formation. Each of the massive, newborn stars found in the imaged interstellar cloud, a dense region of gas and dust, emits wind and radiation, pushing the interstellar debris out in all directions -- forming bubbles.

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Astronomers estimate the bubbles are between 10 and 30 light-years across. The newly published Spitzer image features at least 30 bubbles produced by new stars.

"This active region of star formation is located inside the Milky Way galaxy, in the constellation Aquila," according to a NASA news update. "Black veins running throughout the cloud are regions of especially dense cold dust and gas where even more new stars are likely to form."

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The image's different colors represent different wavelengths of infrared light. The blue light represents radiation emitted by the regions stellar population. Cooler dust and gas particles appear green, while gas and dust warmed by the energy of a newborn star glow yellow and red.

The image also features several bow shocks, arcs of red gas and dust accelerated by the radiation of large and powerful stars.

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Many of the bubbles and bowshocks in the new image were identified by citizen scientists participating in the Milky Way Project, a citizen science effort on Zooniverse.org. For the project, volunteers scan images in Spitzer's public data archive, pinpointing bubble candidates.

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This month, researchers published the Milky Way Project's citizen scientist-compiled catalog of 2,600 bubbles and 599 bow shocks in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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