Like celestial chemical factories, stars spend their lives fusing hydrogen and helium atoms to forge heavier elements. In death, extremely massive stars explode in a supernova, blasting their chemical creations into space, and seeding the universe for a new generation of stars to grow. Meanwhile, medium mass stars like our Sun puff up to become red giants before sloughing off their outer layers, like snakes shedding their skin, sending newly-formed elements and molecules floating slowly off into space.
By studying dying stars, Spitzer offers valuable insights into the composition of their dusty death throes, and clues as to how they died. These studies also provide crucial evidence that may help astronomers solve the longstanding mystery of where the dust in our very young universe came from.
Caption: Spitzer's view of the Cassiopiea A supernova remnant.