The Spider Nebula and Young Stars


A nebula (cloud of interstellar gas and dust) known as “The Spider” glows vividly green in an infrared image taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS). The Spider nebula, officially named IC 417, lies near a much smaller object called NGC 1931, (not pictured in the image). Together, the two are called“The Spider and the Fly” nebulae. Nebulae are the clouds of interstellar gas and dust, hydrogen, helium and other ionized gases. Nebula is a place where stars can form. Originally, nebula was a name for any diffuse astronomical object, including galaxies beyond the Milky Way.

The Nebula Spider is allocated about 10,000 light-years far from Earth in the constellation Auriga, is clearly a site of star formation. It resides in the outer part of the Milky Way, almost exactly in the opposite direction from the galactic center. A group of students, teachers and scientists focused their attention on this region as part of the NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP) in 2015. They worked on identifying new stars in this area.

One of the largest clusters of young stars in the Spider Nebula can be seen easily in the image. Toward the right of center, against the black background of space, you can see a very bright group of stars called “Stock 8.” The light from this cluster carves out a bowl in the nearby dust clouds, seen in the images green fluff. Along the sinuous tail in the center, and on the left, the red point sources you are seeing agglomeration in the green are also young stars.

In the image, infrared wavelengths, which are invisible to the naked eye, have been assigned visible colors. Light with a wavelength of 1.2 microns, detected by 2MASS, is shown in blue. The Spitzer wavelengths of 3.6 and 4.5 microns are green and red.

Spitzer data used to create the image were obtained during the space telescope’s “warm mission” phase, following its depletion of coolant in mid-2009. Due to its design, Spitzer remains cold enough to operate efficiently at two channels of infrared light. It is now in its 12th year of operation since its launch.

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