A WISE flower blooms in space

By Phil Plait | March 22, 2010 8:00 am

I loves me some astronomical nebulae! And the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer — WISE — can really deliver:


[Click to emblossom.]

This image shows AFGL 3193 — what looks like a rosebud — a small piece of a very complicated region of gas, dust, and stars in the constellation of Cepheus in the northern sky. This region has star formation, cold and hot dust, and even a supernova remnant (called NGC 7822). This particular part seen by WISE shows a cluster of young stars called Berkeley 59 — the stars colored blue to the right — surrounded by the gas and dust from which they formed. This cluster is less than a million years old, and the massive, hot stars are blasting out radiation that is eating away at the cocoon surrounding them.

In the false-color image from WISE, red shows the coolest dust, blue and cyan warmer material, and green reveals long-chain organic molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. You can see how the PAHs appear to form around the rim of the nebula as the material there is compressed and warmed by the ultraviolet light and solar winds from the young stars. The filaments are testament to the forces tossed around as the stars go through their violent birth process. One of the stars in the cluster is a massive O5 star with dozens of times the mass of the Sun, and blasting out radiation at a rate 100,000 times that of the Sun!

I’m not sure just how big an area this image covers, but it’s roughly a degree across, twice the width of the Moon on the sky. The cluster is located about 3000 light years away, which is good: a lot of those stars will soon (well, in a few million years) explode, and this distance is far enough away that we’ll see a spectacular light show, but won’t wind up hurting us. Phew!

WISE is designed to survey the sky in infrared, literally spinning around and scanning the entire celestial sphere. It doesn’t have a field of view per se; the data come down in a stream and the astronomers on the ground can put them together at any scale they want, a little bit like Google maps. So expect to see lots more images of objects like this one, and you can get the whole list at the WISE gallery.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Comments (15)

Links to this Post

  1. A Spring Flower at Asymptotia | March 26, 2010
  1. SLC

    This is far off topic but is Dr. Plait going to comment on the announcement by Mr. Randi?

  2. Pi-needles

    Up to him but he has mentioned it on his facebook page methinks. Or at least it was there when I last visited :


    (Not sure if you or everyone will be able to see this but still.)

    Great photo, great observatory.To any & all the WISE guys here – if they happen to see this – Thanks for a job well done & much appreciated. :-)

  3. Ha ha….WISE guys. ūüėČ Bada-bing.

    Great image!

  4. Sharku

    Uhm, as for how big the area covered is, maybe I’m missing something but isn’t this a case of simple trigonometry? If the nebula is 3000 lightyears away and the field of view is 1 degree across, wouldn’t that mean this nebula is approximately 2 * 3000 * tan(0.5¬į) = 52 light years across?

  5. Gary Ansorge

    Just a non related post:

    This has to do with an orange star:


    It seems in only 1.5 million years, we’re going to meet and greet another star system(ok, it’ll only be an Oort cloud grazer).

    Gary 7
    PS: Beautiful pic!

  6. QuietDesperation

    It’s an OK nebula, I guess. Color palette could be better although the brushwork is serviceable.

    This is far off topic but is Dr. Plait going to comment on the announcement by Mr. Randi?

    You mean the one where he announced his engagement to Sylvia Browne?

  7. skylyre

    Anyone else thinking Super Mario Bros? Fire flower!

  8. Pi-needles

    @ 1. SLC & 7. QuietDesperation :

    SLC – the answer is yes.

    QD – the answer is no & somehow I don’t think that is ever terribly likely! LOL ūüėČ

    See : http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/03/22/james-randi-comes-out-of-the-closet/ presuming you haven’t already.

    PS. @6. Gary Ansorge: THX but actually I’ve known about Gliese 710 for a while now.

  9. Lonny Eachus

    It actually looks most like a rosebud from a distance. The resemblance gets lost in the big picture.

  10. QuietDesperation

    QD ‚Äď the answer is no & somehow I don‚Äôt think that is ever terribly likely! LOL

    What are you suggesting? Did Sylvia Browne used to be female or something?

  11. jcm

    So flowery. So rosy! Cool!

  12. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    The hot thing is that PAHs seems to be preferentially photo-selected, here as well as elsewhere. Organic rings is what we see in amino acids, nucleic acids, the ATP energy molecule of the cell, et cetera. Nice correlation!

    [Uups! I seem to have said it before here. Oh, well.]

  13. Gary Ansorge

    13. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    ” I seem to have said it before here. ”

    Don’t feel bad. At my age, I should have a cross referencing data base to keep things straight.

    What does the OM stand for? I had a girl friend in college who was from Columbia, SA., of Dutch extract. Her name was Rondalda Lucille Haekmiester O.The O was the first letter of her mothers maiden name

    Just wondering,,,

    GAry 7


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