Infrared Spotlight on Orion's Sword
|Figure 1||Figure 2|
This image composite outlines the region near Orion's sword that was surveyed by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope (white box). The view on the left (figure 1) is from a visible-light telescope, and the view on the right (figure 2) shows infrared light captured by a previous infrared mission, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite.
The Orion nebula, our closest massive star-making factory, is the brightest spot near the hunter's sword. On a dark night, it can appear to the naked eye as a fuzzy star, and it looks like a ghostly blob through a pair of binoculars. The Orion constellation is one of the most prominent winter constellations, and can be seen from all northern latitudes starting in the fall.
Spitzer used its infrared eyes to probe the dusty clouds of a region called Orion cloud A. outlined here in the hockey stick-shaped box (see PIA08655). This giant cloud stretches almost a quarter of the length of the constellation, an area equivalent to 18 full moons. The small box within the hockey stick shows the location of another image released by Spitzer (see PIA08653), which mainly features the Orion nebula itself.
The bright spot that shows up in the infrared view in the area of Orion's belt is known as Orion cloud B. Together, Orion clouds A and B make up the Orion cloud complex. In a survey of this entire complex, Spitzer unearthed 2,300 stars circled by disks of planet-forming dust and 200 stellar embryos too young to have developed disks.
The Infrared Astronomical Satellite was a joint effort between NASA, the Science and Engineering Research Council, United Kingdom and the Netherlands Agency for Aerospace Programmes, the Netherlands. Spitzer has extended the legacy of the satellite by providing much better resolution and sensitivity.
The visible-light image comes courtesy of Howard McCallon of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology of Pasadena.