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11.09.05

Now You See Stars, Now You Don't

The image composite compares an infrared image taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to a visible-light picture of the same region (inset). While the infrared view, dubbed "Mountains of Creation," reveals towering pillars of dust aglow with the light of embryonic stars (white/yellow), the visible-light view shows dark, barely-visible pillars. The added detail in the Spitzer image reveals a dynamic region in the process of evolving and creating new stellar life.

Why do the pictures look so different? The answer has two parts. First, infrared light can travel through dust, while visible light is blocked by it. In this case, infrared light from the stars tucked inside the dusty pillars is escaping and being detected by Spitzer. Second, the dust making up the pillars has been warmed by stars and consequently glows in infrared light, where Spitzer can see it. This is a bit like seeing warm bodies at night with infrared goggles. In summary, Spitzer is both seeing, and seeing through, the dust.

The Spitzer image was taken by the infrared array camera on Spitzer. It is a 4-color composite of infrared light, showing emissions from wavelengths of 3.6 microns (blue), 4.5 microns (green), 5.8 microns (orange), and 8.0 microns (red).

The visible-light image is from California Institute of Technology's Digitized Sky Survey.