NASA Shares Trippy Images of Gas Bubbles Forming in the Cat's Paw Nebula

Wednesday, 24 October 2018 - 1:41PM
Space
Astronomy
Wednesday, 24 October 2018 - 1:41PM
NASA Shares Trippy Images of Gas Bubbles Forming in the Cat's Paw Nebula
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NASA/JPL/CalTech

Between 4,200 and 5,500 light years away from Earth in the constellation Scorpius lies a nebula with a familiar shape for those who are feline fans. Called Cat's Paw for reasons that are immediately apparent, the nebula was photographed using the MIPS (Multiband Imaging Photometer) and IRAC (Infrared Array Camera) instruments of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The stunning images show green clouds around red bubbles, which NASA says may be the heated, pressurized, and expanded gas left behind after dust and gas inside the nebula collapse to form stars.

Spitzer and its instruments are infrared-based, meaning they operate in a different range of light than we can see with our naked eyes. So if you were to find yourself in a spaceship passing the 80 to 90 lightyears-wide nebula, you wouldn't see the swirling masterpiece depicted in NASA's photos. "The green areas show places where radiation from hot stars collided with large molecules called 'polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,' causing them to fluoresce," the team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory explained in a post. They added that in some cases, the red pockets of expanded gas can burst, turning the round bubbles into U-shapes. A second images shows a bubble that has already burst. There are no green clouds swirling around the pinkish gas because that image was taken only with the IRAC camera, which does not capture florescent dust.


Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Beyond being cool wallpapers and screensaver images, the Cat's Paw Nebula photos are cool because they were taken relatively close to where we are right now. It's always good to get to know your neighbors, and if taking harmless pictures of them helps you learn more about the galaxy and how it works then that's something we will always support.

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NASA
Space
Astronomy
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