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04.13.04

Spitzer MIPS view of Star Formation in the DR21 Region

Hidden behind a shroud of dust in the constellation Cygnus is an exceptionally bright source of radio emission called DR21. Visible light images reveal no trace of what is happening in this region because of heavy dust obscuration. In fact, visible light is attenuated in DR21 by a factor of more than 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000 (ten thousand trillion heptillion).

This image, from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, allows us to peek behind the cosmic veil and pinpoint one of the most massive natal stars yet seen in our Milky Way galaxy. The never-before-seen star is 100,000 times as bright as the Sun. Also revealed for the first time is a powerful outflow of hot gas emanating from this star and bursting through a giant molecular cloud.

The image shows a 24-micron image mosaic, obtained with the Multiband Imaging Photometer aboard Spitzer (MIPS). This image maps the cooler infrared emission from interstellar dust found throughout the interstellar medium. The DR21 complex is clearly seen near the center of the strip, which covers about twice the area of the IRAC image.

Perhaps the most fascinating feature in this image is a long and shadowy linear filament extending towards the 10 o'clock position of DR21. This jet of cold and dense gas, nearly 50 light-years in extent, appears in silhouette against a warmer background. This filament is too long and massive to be a stellar jet and may have formed from a pre-existing molecular cloud core sculpted by DR21's strong winds. Regardless of its true nature, this jet and the numerous other arcs and wisps of cool dust signify the interstellar turbulence normally unseen by the human eye.