August 25, 2008

Spitzer Space Telescope is 5 Years Old

A new image from the U.S. space agency's Spitzer Space Telescope was released Monday as part of the telescope's fifth anniversary celebration.

Spitzer was launched Aug. 25, 2003, by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The new infrared picture shows a colorful cosmic cloud, called W5, filled with multiple generations of stars.

NASA said the image also provides dramatic new evidence that massive stars -- through their brute winds and radiation -- can trigger the birth of stellar newborns.

"Triggered star formation continues to be very hard to prove," said Xavier Koenig of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. "But our preliminary analysis shows that the phenomenon can explain the multiple generations of stars seen in the W5 region."

NASA said W5 spans an area of sky equivalent to four full moons and is about 6,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia.

Koenig is lead author of a paper about the finding in the Dec. 1 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.