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Spitzer captures beautiful ‘space butterfly’ spreading its cosmic wings

28 Mar 2019, 09:43 UTC
Spitzer captures beautiful ‘space butterfly’ spreading its cosmic wings
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Officially known as W40, this red butterfly in space is a nebula, or a giant cloud of gas and dust. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
What looks like a red butterfly in space is in reality a nursery for hundreds of baby stars, revealed in this infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Officially named Westerhout 40 (W40), the butterfly is a nebula – a giant cloud of gas and dust in space where new stars may form. The butterfly’s two “wings” are giant bubbles of hot, interstellar gas blowing from the hottest, most massive stars in this region.
Besides being beautiful, W40 exemplifies how the formation of stars results in the destruction of the very clouds that helped create them. Inside giant clouds of gas and dust in space, the force of gravity pulls material together into dense clumps. Sometimes these clumps reach a critical density that allows stars to form at their cores. Radiation and winds coming from the most massive stars in those clouds – combined with the material spewed into space when those stars eventually explode – sometimes form bubbles like those in W40. But these processes also disperse the gas and dust, breaking up dense clumps and ...

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