Washington, DC- NASA today released the first spectacular images from the Infrared Array Camera (IRAC) instrument on board the Spitzer Space Telescope. The pictures, taken at infrared wavelengths of light, revealed remarkable details in objects ranging from nearby star formation regions to distant spiral galaxies. The images are but a taste of what will come from IRAC, which was developed for NASA by a team led by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), with Giovanni Fazio as the Principal Investigator.
"We are absolutely thrilled by the performance of IRAC, which has met or exceeded all expectations," says Fazio. "Every time we take a picture, we see something spectacular!"
The three IRAC objects featured in today's press conference at NASA Headquarters are emission nebula IC 1396, spiral galaxy Messier 81 (M81), and Herbig-Haro 46 (HH 46).
"Together, these three images show how IRAC will serve as a 'time machine,' giving us new information about the past, present, and future of our cosmos. Combined with its ability to peer into the distant past of the universe by studying highly redshifted galaxies, IRAC truly is lifting the cosmic veil and revealing hidden wonders," says Fazio.
The region of IC 1396 imaged by IRAC is a globule of gas and dust about 12 light-years in size. In visible light, it appears as a dark silhouette against the background of glowing nebular gas. Yet IRAC revealed it to be shining brightly at infrared wavelengths.
This globule is a remnant of a much larger molecular cloud complex in Cepheus that already has formed populous star clusters. This leftover blob of gas and dust is being sculpted by the intense radiation from nearby massive, hot, young stars.
"Radiation and hot winds are carving away the nebula like rust sandblasted from an old car. Eventually, it will vanish completely. We're lucky to have caught it in the act, to get a chance to see these stunning ethereal wisps before they disappear," says Fazio.
"By studying M81, we can get an outsider's view of our home. This is what aliens would see if they looked back at the Milky Way," says Fazio.
In visible light, M81 displays an unremarkable disk and central bulge of stars. Dust lanes wind throughout the disk, hiding details of the galaxy's structure and composition. IRAC sweeps away that obscuration to clearly separate M81's stars (dominant in the near-infrared) from its hot dust (most visible at mid-infrared wavelengths). In doing so, IRAC uncovered areas where star formation is taking place, visible in the image as infrared-bright clumpy knots within the well-defined spiral arms. The huge amounts of dust revealed by IRAC, and the associated hydrogen gas, will provide raw materials for future star formation.
The photo of M81 is a four-color composite of infrared light at wavelengths of 3.6 microns (blue), 4.5 microns (green), 5.8 microns (yellow), and 8.0 microns (red).
The sharp infrared eyes of IRAC exposed the source of these jets - a young protostar embedded in an obscuring cloud of matter.
"This youngster is still forming, and like any youngster, it's acting up a bit," says Fazio.
Most young stars produce powerful jets during their birth, in a process yet to be fully understood by scientists. Those jets may help the star to collect infalling material by removing excess angular momentum. Without them, like an ice skater who pulls in his arms while spinning in place, the star soon would whirl so fast that centrifugal forces would stop its growth.
While powerful jets are believed to assist forming stars, the jet of HH 46 is particularly strong, speeding outward across more than 9 light-years of space. (For comparison, the closest star to the Sun is only 4 light-years away.)
The Infrared Array Camera is one of three science instruments on board the Spitzer Space Telescope. IRAC was developed by SAO and built at the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. The Spitzer Space Telescope mission is managed for NASA by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., a division of the California Institute of Technology.The Spitzer Space Telescope, launched August 25 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., uses state-of-the-art infrared detectors to pierce the dusty darkness enshrouding such celestial objects as galaxies, stars, and planet-forming discs around stars. It is the fourth of NASA's Great Observatories, which include the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory and Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.
Related Web sites
Spitzer Space Telescope
University of Arizona astronomers are delighted with first images from the Spitzer Space Telescope, formerly called the Space Infrared Telescope Facility.
UA astronomy Professor George Rieke presented some of the images at a news conference at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. today. Rieke is principal investigator for the Multiband Imaging Photometer (MIPS), one of three science instruments aboard the Spitzer Space Telescope.
"We know now that this telescope will do exciting things," Rieke said. "All of these observations were to help us figure out if everything is working well enough to do the observations we plan to do. It is. We already could write two dozen papers from little scraps of information we got during checkout. This is so new that there's something new in almost everything we see."
UA-built MIPS detectors took the first-ever image of dust in the inner part of the massive disc of dusty debris left over from planet formation around Fomalhaut, a star 25 light years away. Fomalhaut is the 18th brightest star in the sky and 100 times more luminous than our sun. Its outer ring of icy debris is two or three times the size of our solar system. Although other telescopes have observed the outer edges of the Fomalhaut's disc, none have been able to photograph the inner region.
"What we think is happening is that there probably is one massive planet, or more, orbiting this star within a ring of icy, Kuiper Belt-like objects," Rieke said. Kuiper Belt objects are small, icy bodies left over from solar system formation. They form a vast shell around the outer edge of the solar system. "The planet, or planets, may be deflecting comets to the inner part of the solar system." Colliding debris create a dense ball of dust.
MIPS images taken in early November show the dust that heats up as it spirals toward Fomalhaut. Fomalhaut's inner solar system dust ball would fill our solar system out to the planet Uranus.
Another new image shows the dusty, star-studded arms of galaxy M81, a large spiral galaxy 12 million light years away.
"This is the first time we've seen such a well-resolved image of a classic grand design spiral galaxy at far-infrared wavelengths," said MIPS instrument team scientist Karl Gordon of UA's Steward Observatory. "There is an incredible amount of structure that we just haven=B9t been able to see before. For the first time, we will be able to study different star-forming regions within many different galaxies at infrared wavelengths. The quality of the data so soon after launch is just amazing."
UA MIPS team member John Stansberry and NASA Ames scientist Dale Cruikshank took an image of heat given off by dust around Comet P-29 (Schwassmann/Wachmann 1), the 29th comet discovered in our solar system.
Most comets become active only when they come in as close to the sun as Earth. That's where water frozen in comets starts to "sublimate," or turn from ice to gas.
Comet P-29 is beyond Jupiter, and is too cold for water ice to sublimate. What drives this comet's activity is probably carbon dioxide ice, dry ice. Carbon dioxide gas carries dust away from the comet, forming a cloud, or coma, many times larger than Jupiter.
"We got a really good image of this comet. Instrument performance is right on," Stansberry said.
Ball Aerospace, Boulder, Co., built the MIPS instrument.
The Spitzer Space Telescope was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. on August 24 and is the fourth of NASA's Great Observatories. The telescope is more sensitive to infrared radiation, or heat, than any ever built. It complements the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory that operate, respectively, at visible, gamma ray and X-ray wavelengths.
UA's Steward Observatory plays a major role in the Spitzer Space Telescope. Not only did UA scientists provide one of the telescope's three science instruments, Steward Observatory astronomers lead two of its six major Legacy Science projects.
UA astronomer Robert Kennicutt Jr. leads the "SINGS" project. He and his team will use the Spitzer telescope to study star formation in nearby galaxies. Astronomers want to know why some nearby galaxies create hundreds more stars than the Milky Way creates, while other galaxies hardly form any stars.
UA astronomer Michael Meyer leads another Legacy Science project. He and his team are studying dust disks evolving around Milky Way stars to learn if solar systems like ours are rare or commonplace.
NASA announced the telescope's new name at today's news conference. It honors Lyman Spitzer, Jr., one of the 20th century=B9s most distinguished astronomers. Spitzer was the first to propose placing large telescopes in space. His efforts led to two successful missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope.The Spitzer Space Telescope is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, a division of the California Institute of Technology. Science operations are handled at Caltech.
ITHACA, N.Y. - An instrument aboard NASA's recently launched orbiting infrared observatory has found evidence of organic molecules in an enormously powerful galaxy some 3.25 billion light years from the Earth. So powerful is the source, that it is equal to 10 trillion times the luminosity of the sun, making it one of the brightest galaxies ever detected.
The instrument on the newly named Spitzer Space Telescope (previously called the Space Infrared Telescope Facility, or SIRTF) is the infrared spectrograph, or IRS. James Houck, professor of astronomy at Cornell University, heads the scientific team on the $39 million IRS contract with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., a division of the California Institute of Technology, manager of the mission for NASA.
Houck participated in a press conference at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., today (Dec. 18) at which the first observations and data from the half-billion-dollar observatory, launched Aug. 25, were released. Among the most spectacular details released were dazzling images taken with the space telescope's infrared-array camera and with its multiband-imaging photometer. The images include a glowing stellar nursery; a swirling, dusty galaxy; a disc of planet-forming debris; and organic material in the distant universe.
The IRS, one of three instruments carried by the space telescope, is the most sensitive infrared spectrograph ever to go into space. In less than 15 minutes it produced a spectrum of the distant galaxy IRAS 00183, first observed by the infrared astronomical satellite (IRAS) in 1983. The spectrum "gives evidence for organic chemistry in a distant galaxy shortly after the formation of the Earth," says Houck. (While the Spitzer observatory's cameras take infrared snapshots of distant galaxies and dust clouds, and objects too cool to emit visible light, the IRS determines their precise infrared colors. Astronomers are then able to read the peaks and valleys in the spectrum, called emission and absorption lines, to determine the chemical mix of the object being observed.)
In an optical image, the IRAS galaxy appears as no more than a faint smudge. But the IRS spectrum - the first detailed look at the galaxy - shows a broad silicate feature. The dominant absorber of visible energy is tiny silicate dust particles. The silicate dust is so opaque that only a small percentage of the visible light escapes the galaxy, says Houck.
"We are seeing the merger of two galaxies. This produces one of two effects: Either what we are seeing is a brief flash of incredibly strong star formation, or one or both of the galaxies contained a black hole before colliding. The massive black holes are releasing the energy by swallowing stars and gas," says Houck. In both cases, he says, the collision would compress gas that would trigger the star formation or the release of energy from the black hole, a process called "feeding the monster."
Both scenarios have problems, Houck concedes. "One is, how do you get enough gas close enough to a black hole to make all this happen? And how do you get stars to form so quickly all at the same time?"
Houck's IRS team also released a spectrum of HH46IR, a "dusty, dirty cloud" in our galaxy, the Milky Way, that visible light is unable to penetrate. The spectrum shows the cloud to be a region of star formation containing organic materials, including methyl alcohol, carbon dioxide ice and carbon monoxide gas and ice.
Houck also notes that the IRS is "working well" and is likely to be "a workhorse for years to come." During November, he relates, the instrument was subject to a massive proton "storm" in space, with 1.6 billion atomic particles (mostly protons) bombarding a square centimeter of the instrument in just two days. "It was a staggering event," he says.
Related World Wide Web sites: The following sites provide additional information on this news release. Some might not be part of the Cornell University community, and Cornell has no control over their content or availability.Spitzer Space Telescope/JPL
The survey will be done using the newly refurbished 48-inch Oschin Telescope, originally used to produce major photographic sky atlases starting in 1950s. At its new technological heart is a very special, fully digital camera. The camera contains 112 digital imaging detectors, known as charge-coupled devices (CCDs). The largest astronomical camera until now has had 30 CCDs. CCDs are often used for digital imaging ranging from common snapshot cameras to sophisticated scientific instruments. Designed and built by scientists at Yale and Indiana Universities, the QUEST (Quasar Equatorial Survey Team) camera was recently installed on the Oschin Telescope. "We are excited by the new data we are starting to obtain from the Palomar Observatory with the new QUEST camera," says Charles Baltay, Higgins Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Yale University. Baltay's dream of building a large electronic camera that could capture the entire field of view of a wide-field telescope is now a reality. The survey will generate astronomical data at an unprecedented rate, about one terabyte per month; a terabyte is a million megabytes, an amount of information approximately equivalent to that contained in two million books. In two years, the survey will generate an amount of information about equal to that in the entire Library of Congress.
A major new feature of the Palomar-QUEST survey will be many repeated observations of the same portions of the sky, enabling researchers to find not only objects that move (like asteroids or comets), but also objects that vary in brightness, such as the supernova explosions, variable stars, quasars, or cosmic gamma-ray bursts--and to do this at an unprecedented scale."Previous sky surveys provided essentially digital snapshots of the sky", s ays S. George Djorgovski, professor of astronomy at Caltech. "Now we are starting to make digital movies of the universe." Djorgovski and his team, in collaboration with the Yale group, are also planning to use the survey to discover large numbers of very distant quasars--highly luminous objects bel ieved to be powered by massive black holes in the centers of young galaxies --and to use them to probe the early stages of the universe.
National Observatory of Japan Press Release, 8/10/02
When did you look up night sky recently? Nowadays, people's lifestyles are estranged from the dark night sky, and stars have begun to recede from their memory. Therefore, in order that everyone should see movies of the starry night via the internet, we have constructed the web site,
In this web site you may see some movies of the Milky Way taken at a local observatory, night skies of an urban area, the countless stars seen in the southern hemisphere, and so on. Aspects of one night are seen in about one minute, so, from these short movies, you may recognize a diurnal motion of stars easily. You also find movies about the motions of a planet and a comet.
Each feels his own enjoyment of these movies. Just seeing movies about stars with the Milky Way or shooting stars and having a new understanding of beauty of them. Finding a difference of appearance between each image that caused by location of observation point or terrestrial latitude. For people who are not satisfied with seeing only and want to take movies by yourself, tips of how to make such movies are also presented.
For the purpose of making everyone become familiar the with starry sky, this web site is constracted. Please visit and enjoy our contents!
The web site is operated by a working group named "Real-Universe". This group consists of astronomical investigators, school teachers, staffs of public observatory, and others. For the purpose described above we made collaborations crossing a filed of study.
April 2, 2002
Letter from the Rose Center for Earth and Space, American Museum of Natural History, New York
This letter is to announce the arrival of the 3-D visualization software Partiview. Developed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), the American Museum of Natural History/Hayden Planetarium has been awarded a grant by NCSA to develop Partiview into a more powerful, user-friendly tool for the advancement of science. We have posted the Partiview software at our web site: http://www.haydenplanetarium.org/.
What we have posted as of 1 April 2002 is Partiview Version 0.5, the foundation upon which we will build. Because this is the initial release, the program may be a bit rough around the edges, and bugs may appear from time to time. However, the program has been used extensively here for about a year and is generally very robust.
We intend to build a community of users for Partiview who can discuss the software as well as share data with one another. In the future, our web site will serve this community by answering FAQs, posting your data, as well as addressing troubleshooting issues.
Please feel free to contact us at this address if you have any comments and/or questions. While we have no formal support team in place, we will try to answer your questions in as timely a manner as possible.
Thank you for your interest in Partiview!
Department of Astrophysics & Hayden Planetarium
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY 10024
The official time, usually valid to within a second, is available on the Web. www.time.gov. The time comes from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Naval Observatory. Random delays in transmission over the Internet provide some uncertainty. International time zones are available from another site: http://www.bsdi.com/date. I especially like the time zone for Nepal, which is 15 minutes off the hourly offset, and 15 minutes also from the time zone for India, which is on a half-hourly offset.
Larry Sessions has a nice Web site that tells you what is up.
A comment by the author
Astrology is not connected with astronomy, except in a historical context, so does not really deserve a place in a text on contemporary astronomy. But since so many people associate astrology with astronomy, and since astrologers claim to be using astronomical objects to make their predictions, let us use our knowledge of astronomy and of the scientific method to assess astrology's validity. Since millions of Americans believe in astrology--a number that shows no sign of decreasing--we cannot ignore the matter. Indeed, surveys show belief by adolescents in astrology to be increasing. Astrology, extrasensory perception (ESP), witchcraft, and several other topics of public interest are examples of pseudoscience, a set of topics that masquerades as having a relation to science without having any real scientific content.
Science is also misrepresented to the public by "creationists," who hold that the Earth and everything in the Universe was created only a few thousand years ago. Throughout this book you will learn of the evidence found by astronomers that the Earth and Solar System are about 4.5 billion years old and that the galaxies and the Universe are even older. And you will learn about the methods scientists use to study the Universe and to validate theories. "Creationism" is simply not compatible with today's scientific knowledge and standards.
Astrology is an attempt to predict or explain our actions and personalities on the basis of the positions of the stars and planets now and at the instants of our births. Astrology has been around for a long time, but it has never been shown to work. Believers may cite incidents that reinforce their faith in astrology, but no successful scientific tests have ever been carried out. If something happens to you that you had expected because of an astrological prediction, you would more certainly notice that this event occurred than you would notice the thousands of other unpredicted things that happened to you that day. Yet we do enough things, have sufficiently varied thoughts, and interact with enough people that if we make many predictions in the morning, some of them are likely to be at least partially fulfilled during the day. We simply forget that the rest ever existed.
In fact, even the alignments that many astrologers use are not accurately calculated, since the precession of the Earth's pole has changed the stars that are overhead at a given time of year from what they were millennia ago when astrological tables that are often still in use were computed. At a given time of year, the Sun is usually in a different sign of the zodiac than its traditional astrological one. And we know that the constellations don't even exist as physical objects. They are merely projections of the positions of stars that are usually very different distances from us.
Studies have shown that superstition actively constricts the progress of science and technology in various countries around the world and is therefore not merely an innocuous force. It is not merely that some people harmlessly believe in astrology. Their lack of understanding of scientific structure may actually impede the training of people needed to solve the problems of our age. Widespread superstitious beliefs even impeded smallpox-prevention programs. Thus many scientists are not content to ignore astrology, but actively oppose its dissemination. Further, if large numbers of citizens do not understand the scientific method and the difference between science and pseudoscience, how can they intelligently vote on or respond to scientific questions that have societal implications? The episode in which Nancy Reagan, the wife of the President, consulted an astrologer about her husband's schedule was not only a serious breach of security but also shows how widespread belief in pseudoscience is.
A team of Calstate-Long Beach psychologists arranged for a magician to perform three psychic-like stunts in front of psychology classes. Even when they emphasized to the students that the performer was a magician performing tricks, 50 per cent of the class still believed the magician to be psychic.
Further, astrology just doesn't work. In 1985, Shawn Carlson, a UCLA-Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory physicist, reported on his double-blind controlled test of astrology. As part of the test, 28 astrologers, all highly respected by their peers, were asked to make a total of 116 selections, each matching one "natal chart," a horoscope based on the time and place of birth, to the results of standardized personality surveys for three different people. One of these standardized surveys came from the same person as the natal chart. Though the astrologers themselves predicted that they would get "at least" 50 per cent of these matchings correct, they scored only 34 per cent, precisely what one would expect if astrology did not work at all. Further, even when the astrologers rated a particular standardized survey as fitting the natal chart very well, they were no more likely to be correct. So even in Carlson's controlled experiment, in which he had worked with astrologers to make it a fair test to them, astrology failed.
In sum, astrology is meaningless, unnecessary, and impossible to explain if we accept the broad set of physical laws and theories we have conceived over the years to explain what happens on the Earth and in the sky. In Section 20.6b of the 5th edition, we discuss the structure of science and how closely related it is to Occam's Razor, which states that we accept the simplest satisfactory explanation as true. Astrology snipes at the roots of all pure science. Moreover, astrology patently doesn't work. If people want to believe in astrology on an a priori basis, as a religion, or have a personal astrologer act as a psychologist, let them not try to cloak their beliefs in scientific astronomical gloss. The only reason people may believe that they have seen astrology work is that it is a self-fulfilling means of prophecy, conceived of long ago when we knew less about the exciting things that are going on in the Universe.
Science is more than just a set of facts, since a methodology of investigation and standards of proof are involved, but science is more than just a methodology since many facts have been well established. In this course, you are supposed not only to learn certain facts about the Universe but also to appreciate the way that theories and facts come to be accepted. Let's all learn from the stars, but let's learn the truth!
Back to top