Hazy infrared monsters (Cosmology)

A nebula on the plane of the Milky Way, a luminous region 7800 light years from Earth and two stars of unknown distance: these are the dots to connect to draw a frightening cosmic Godzilla. To see it, the fantasy of an astronomer from NASA’s Spitzer mission, who shot these and other spectacular nebulae in our galaxy

You know when you see the clouds take the shape of animals? Or when you stare at a wooden beam ceiling and in the knots can you see faces and constellations? Here, the constellations, they too were born because someone was able to see gods, heroes and mythological figures hidden inside a simple juxtaposition of luminous dots in the sky. All this is not a simple fantasy game, it has a scientific name: it is called pareidolia .

Let’s take the image here on the right now. It is a nebula – a cloud of gas and dust like there are many in space – in the constellation of Sagittarius and immortalized, in this case, by the Spitzer Space Telescope.of NASA. Over the course of billions of years, it has given rise to countless stars, which in turn have colored, modified and shaped the cloud itself with their radiation. When the most massive stars die, they often become supernovae, in an explosion that often wipes out a lot of material, and creates more. To observe such an environment, however, the human eye is not enough: the visible light is completely obscured by the clouds of dust that pervade the space. Infrared light, on the other hand – that observed by Spitzer, at wavelengths greater than what our eyes can perceive – can penetrate the clouds, revealing hidden details and colors like those we can appreciate in this image. Actually, there are four images we are seeing, one in each of the four dominant colors (blue, cyan, green and red), corresponding to different and suitably superimposed infrared wavelengths: yellow and white are combinations of these, while blue and cyan represent the wavelengths emitted mainly by stars; dust and organic molecules called hydrocarbons appear green; finally, hot dust that has been heated by stars or supernovae appears red.

But let’s go back to the imagination because, if at first glance the nebula seems just an immense spectacle of nature, by sliding the cursor to the left , we will be able to see that someone, punctual as on Halloween night, has seen something else: it is the godzilla monster . The two small bright spots in the upper right – two stars whose distance is unknown but which are within our galaxy – draw the eyes, while the brightest region in the lower left is about 7800 light-years from Earth. (it’s called W33) and shapes the cosmic monster’s right hand. Finally, with a little more imagination, under the two stars at the top, you can see the dark shadow of the jaws.

“I wasn’t looking for monsters,” says Robert Hurt , astronomer responsible for most of the public images created by Spitzer data since the observatory’s launch in 2003. “I just happened to take a look at a region of the sky I had browsed through. many times before, but I had never zoomed in. Sometimes, if you crop an area differently, something that wasn’t seen before comes out. It was my eyes and mouth that made me scream ‘Godzilla’. ‘

“It’s one of the ways we want people to connect with the amazing work Spitzer has done,” continues Hurt. “I’m looking for compelling areas that can really tell a story. Sometimes it’s a story about how stars and planets are formed, and sometimes it’s a giant monster raging in Tokyo. “

If you are not convinced of the similarity identified by Spitzer’s astronomer, you can draw your own cosmic creature with the Spitzer Artistronomy web app . New nebulae, including this one, were added to the app this month. Thanks to its infrared eyes, Spitzer can easily find nebulae that are too cold to radiate visible light, or whose visible light cannot reach because it is hidden behind clouds of dust.

Featured image: Click to open the interactive version. Credits: Nasa / Jpl-Caltech

Provided by INAF

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