The Spitzer Space Telescope website will be down on Tuesday July 29th from 9am PST to 10am PST for server maintenance. Thank you for your patience.

Download Video

Video Information

Subscribe to Series

04.05.06

Birth of 'Phoenix' Planets?

This artist's animation depicts the explosive death of a massive star, followed by the creation of a disk made up of the star's ashes. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope was able to see the warm glow of such a dusty disk using its heat-seeking infrared vision. Astronomers believe planets might form in this dead star's disk, like the mythical Phoenix rising up out of the ashes.

The movie begins by showing a dying massive star called a red giant. This bloated star is about 15 times more massive than our sun, and approximately 40 times bigger in diameter. When the star runs out of nuclear fuel, it collapses and ultimately blows apart in what is called a supernova. A lone planet around the star is shown being incinerated by the fiery blast. Astronomers do not know if stars of this heft host planets, but if they do, the planets would probably be destroyed when the stars explode.

All that remains of the dead star is its shrunken corpse, called a neutron star. Neutron stars are incredibly dense, with masses nearly one-and-one-half times that of our sun squeezed into bodies roughly 10 miles wide (16 kilometers). They are so dense that their gravity causes light to bend and warp around them. The particular neutron star depicted here, called a pulsar, spins and pulses with X-ray radiation.

Some debris, or ashes, from the supernova can be seen settling into a disk in orbit around the pulsar. This material never reached the velocity needed to escape the gravity of the pulsar, and can be thought of as falling back toward the star. The resulting "fallback disk" resembles protoplanetary disks around young stars, out of which planets are thought to form.

The pulsar observed by Spitzer, called 4U 0142+61, is13,000 light-years away in the northern constellation Cassiopeia. Its disk orbits about 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) away from it, and probably contains about 10 Earth-masses of material -- only a few millionths of the mass of the material expelled in the supernova.

At the end of the movie, small asteroids begin to form within the disk. This first step towards planet formation might be happening in this system already.

Browse Videos in Science Animations

2040100 per page

Details or Icons

Page-nav-left-disabled Page 1 of 4 Page-nav-right

Go to page

03.20.14

Panning Through the Milky Way

This video shows a continually looping view of the Spitzer Space Telescope's new infrared view of our Milky Way Galaxy.

Watch now

07.18.12

Flying Out to GJ 436 and its Planets

Starting from Earth, we quickly zoom out of the solar system into our sun's local neighborhood, populated by the clos...

Watch now

05.08.12

Super Earth Reveals Itself to Spitzer (Narrated)

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has, for the first time, captured the light emanating from a distant super Earth, a pl...

Watch now

05.08.12

Super Earth Reveals Itself to Spitzer

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has, for the first time, captured the light emanating from a distant super Earth, a pl...

Watch now

10.19.10

Weird Warm Spot on Exoplanet

This animation illustrates an unexpected warm spot on the surface of a gaseous exoplanet. NASA's Spitzer Space Telesc...

Watch now

10.19.10

Weird Warm Spot on Exoplanet (Narrated)

This animation illustrates an unexpected warm spot on the surface of a gaseous exoplanet. NASA's Spitzer Space Telesc...

Watch now

10.06.09

Saturn Family Tour

This video showcases the Saturnian system, beginning with the planet itself and panning out to its newest addition --...

Watch now

08.10.09

Planetary Demolition Derby

This artist's animation shows a celestial body about the size of our moon slamming at great speed into a body the siz...

Watch now

06.04.09

Tour of Planet with Extreme Temperature Swings

This animation shows a computer simulation of the planet HD 80606b from an observer located at a point in space lying...

Watch now

06.04.09

Silicate Crystal Formation in the Disk of an Erupting Star

This artist's animation illustrates how silicate crystals like those found in comets can be created by an outburst fr...

Watch now

07.15.08

Zooming in on Second-Brightest Star in Milky Way

This movie zooms in to reveal the "Peony nebula" star -- the new second-brightest star in the Milky Way, discovered i...

Watch now

05.05.08

Dissecting a Light Echo

This animation illustrates how a light echo works, and how an optical illusion of material moving outward is created....

Watch now

05.05.08

Cauldron of Light

In this animation, a seething cauldron of light appears to bubble and ooze around the remains of a giant star that as...

Watch now

11.29.07

Pulling Back the Curtain of Dust

This artist's animation begins by showing a dark and dusty corner of space where little visible light can escape. The...

Watch now

05.09.07

Blacker than Black

This artist's animation illustrates the hottest planet yet observed in the universe. The scorching ball of gas, a "ho...

Watch now

05.09.07

Mapping Exotic Worlds

This animation shows the first-ever map of the surface of an exoplanet, or a planet beyond our solar system. The map,...

Watch now

05.09.07

How to Map a Very Faraway Planet

Scientists using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope were able to create the first-ever map of the surface of a planet bey...

Watch now

04.18.07

Highway to the Danger Zone

"The further on the edge, the hotter the intensity," sings Kenny Loggins in "Danger Zone," a song made famous by the ...

Watch now