Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2004 May 20
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Sharpless 140
Credit: G. Melnick (CfA), JPL, Caltech, NASA

Explanation: Three young, massive stars will eventually emerge from this natal cloud of dust and gas, but their presence is already revealed in this false-color image from the Spitzer Space Telescope. The picture offers a penetrating infrared view of an emission nebula cataloged as Sharpless 140 which lies about 3,000 light-years away toward the constellation Cepheus. The young stars are otherwise obscured in visible light images by the dusty environs. Sculpted by winds and radiation from hot stars in the region, the majestic arcing structures pictured here are tens of light-years across and contain surprisingly complex molecules - polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) - that glow in the infrared. An amazingly detailed record of cosmic markers of star formation, the image hints at the wealth of infrared data now freely available in the Spitzer Space Telescope archive.

Tomorrow's picture: Venus in phase

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