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Spitzer snaps star births in Cassiopeia

Infrared reveals all

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Stunning new infrared pictures of star forming regions in the Cassiopeia constellation have been sent back by the Spitzer Space Telescope.

The new 'Pillars of Creation' as imaged by Spitzer

The images reveal stars forming inside towering pillars of dust - more than ten times larger than the famous "Pillars of Creation" pictures Hubble took of the Eagle Nebula. The largest of the towers houses several embryonic stars than have never been seen before.

"We believe that the star clusters lighting up the tips of the pillars are essentially the offspring of the region's single, massive star," said Dr. Lori Allen, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "It appears that radiation and winds from the massive star triggered new stars to form."

The infrared view of the pillars has allowed investigators, led by Dr. Allen, to estimate the age of the stars in the pillars, and to study how they were formed. In visible light the dust towers are utterly opaque, surrounded by a halo of light at the edges.

The pillars vanish in visible light

This particular section of space, the M5 region of the Cassiopeia constellation, along with the Eagle nebula is known as a high-mass star forming region.

It is a generally accepted part of the theory of star formation that large and dense dust clouds eventually collapse in on themselves under the force of their own gravity, eventually forming massive stars - perhaps 10 times the mass of our sun.

When these huge stars light up, the radiation and stellar winds shape the remains of the nebula around them, stripping away all but the densest regions of dust - the pillars. The theory is then that these pillars become dense enough to trigger a secondary wave of star formation, which is what the astronomers think they have captured in these images. ®

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