Spitzer Digs Up Hidden Stars
Release No.: 
2007-10
For Release: 
Monday, April 30, 2007 - 8:00pm

Two rambunctious young stars are destroying their natal dust cloud with powerful jets of radiation, in an infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The stars are located approximately 600 light-years away in a cosmic cloud called BHR 71.

"BHR 71 has been a favorite object of mine for years," said Tyler Bourke of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "This spectacular new Spitzer image really shows off the changes in the jets, in ways impossible at other wavelengths."

The visible light image (left) was taken by the European Space Agency's ground-based Very Large Telescope. In this image BHR 71 is just a large black structure. The burst of yellow light toward the bottom of the cloud is the only indication that stars might be forming inside.

In the infrared image (middle), the baby stars are shown as the bright yellow smudges toward the center. Both of these yellow spots have wisps of green shooting out of them. The green wisps reveal the beginning of a jet. Like a rainbow, the jet begins as green, then transitions to orange, and red toward the end.

The jets' changing colors reveals a cooling effect, and may suggest that the young stars are spouting out radiation in regular bursts. The green tints at the beginning of the jet reveal really hot hydrogen gas, the orange shows warm gas, and the wisps of red at the end represent the coolest gas.

The fact that gas toward the beginning of the jet is hotter than gas near the middle, suggests that the stars must give off regular bursts of energy - and the material closest to the star is being heated by shockwaves from a recent stellar outburst. Meanwhile, the tints of orange reveal gas that is currently being heated by shockwaves from a previous stellar outburst. By the time these shockwaves reach the end of the jet, they have slowed down so significantly that the gas is only heated a little, and looks red.

The combined visible-light infrared composite (right) shows that a young star's powerful jet is responsible for the rupture at the bottom of the dense cloud in the visible-light image. We know this because the burst of light in the visible-light image overlaps exactly with a jet spouting out of the left star, shown in the infrared image.

The combination of views also brings out some striking details that evaded visible-light detection. For example, the yellow dots scattered throughout the image are actually young stars forming inside BHR 71. Spitzer also uncovered another young star with jets, located to the right of the powerful jet seen in the visible-light image.

Spitzer can see details, that visible-light telescopes don't, because its infrared instruments are sensitive to "heat."

The infrared image is made up of data from Spitzer's infrared array camera. Blue shows infrared light at 3.6 microns, green is light at 4.5 microns, and red is light at 8.0 microns.

Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.

David A. Aguilar
Director of Public Affairs
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
617-495-7462
daguilar@cfa.harvard.edu

Christine PulliamPublic Affairs Specialist
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
617-495-7463
cpulliam@cfa.harvard.edu