Thursday, July 21, 2011

Caught In The Web... Space Spider!

By Tammy Plotner

IC 342's dust structures show up vividly in red, in this infrared view from Spitzer. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Look, he's crawling up my wall... Black and hairy, very small... Now he's up above my head... Hanging by a little thread. Nope. It's not Boris the Spider, it's spiral galaxy IC 342 and it's hanging out in the constellation of Camelopardalis. Thanks to NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, we're able to peer through the dust clouds and sneak a peek at this arachnid appearing beastie.

Residing at an approximate distance of 10 million light-years, this impressive grand design spiral is difficult for details because it's located directly behind the disk of the Milky Way from our point of view. Tiny particles of interstellar dust, which measure just a fraction of a micron across, mimic the blue wavelength of light. These vast areas composed of silicates, carbon, ice, and/or iron compounds dim the light in a process called extinction - but using infrared vision can even the score. Line-of-sight stars from our galaxy appear blue/white and the blue haze around the galaxy's nucleus is from IC 342's collective starlight. It's gangly arms glow a soft crimson and clumps of newly forming stars radiate red.

It's small wonder the core of IC 342 appears so spooky. According to research, it has undergone a recent burst of star formation activity and is close enough to have gravitationally influenced the evolution of the local group of galaxies and the Milky Way. Can you observe Boris yourself? Absolutely. You'll find this magnitude 9 critter located along the galactic equator at RA 03h 46m 48.5s - Dec +68 05' 46". But beware... Its low surface brightness means you'll need a rich field telescope and good, dark skies.

Creepy, crawly... Creepy, crawly... Creepy, creepy, crawly, crawly...

Original News Source: JPL / Spitzer News.

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