Gallery: Spitzer's Greatest Hits

By Phil Plait | February 10, 2011 11:07 am

[This is a gallery of gorgeous images, my favorites, from the orbiting infrared observatory called the Spitzer Space Telescope. Click the thumbnail picture to get a bigger picture and more information, click the big pictures to go to my original blog posts about the pictures, and scroll through the gallery using the left and right arrows.]



Comments (21)

Links to this Post

  1. Astronomy Websites to Love « astrobites | February 14, 2011
  1. Oli

    The ‘gulf of mexico’ isn’t dark because of dust, it’s because of the oil 😉

  2. Dave

    Is it just me, or does the IR-enhanced shot of the Helix nebula bear an eerie resemblance to HAL from “2001”?

    “I’m sorry Dave… but I’m afraid I can’t let you do that!”

  3. Keith Hearn

    I looked at “The beating heart of W5” and didn’t see a heart, I saw the open mouth of a shark, with jagged white teeth pointing inward to the red mouth, leading back to the dark abyss of the throat. It’s a scary universe out there. :)

  4. thetentman


    Absatively and posilutely stunning photos. Thank you very much.


  5. Sam H

    In relation to image 5 of galaxy NGC 6240: how do we know they were once two galaxies? I can’t see any indication of any former individual shapes based on the shape alone. I might just see a dimmer core next to the brighter one, but it could be something else. Is it supermassive black holes (which may not always indicate former individual galaxies), or distribution of star populations? I’d be curious to know this.

  6. Thanks for that Phil. You know I’m sharin’ THIS.

  7. Leon

    “This is the iconic North America Nebula, named for what should be an obvious reason: its remarkable resemblance to the continent, complete with Florida and the Gulf of Mexico!”

    Funny–when I first saw it, my eyes fell on the Gulf of Mexico / Caribbean / Eastern Seaboard area and thought “Nah, it should be called the China Nebula”…

  8. Ross

    So in deep space, what is the distinction between gas and dust?

  9. Other Paul

    Shades of Un Chien Andalou in the last one, the cloud across the moon, the razor and the eye.

  10. John

    @ Leon – Isn’t it amazing how those two areas have been shaped by natural forces to look very similar!!!

  11. Ciaran

    It took me ages to get the North America nebula. I kept looking at the brownish part, thinking it looked a bit like China!

  12. Brian Too

    All hail the mighty Eye of Sauron (Image #3)!!

    It’s fun to identify a star (or any light source) in Image #1, put a finger on your monitor, and see what it becomes in Image #2. Of course the reverse also works.

  13. Tom

    Based on the title of the post, I was expecting pictures of Ashley Dupre. Back to Gawker….

  14. The ‘beating heart’ reminds me of a little anecdote.

    I work in graphic design, and do a combination of genuine production jobs and training exercises, mostly the former now that I’ve been there for a while.

    Some time ago, I did a wedding invitation based on a client’s specifications. When I’d finished, there wasn’t any new work for me to do, so the training supervisor suggested that I re-do the wedding invitation freeform, just for the practice.

    We talked about it for a bit, as I wanted some spark of inspiration to get me started. The training supervisor mentioned in passing that one would obviously not use an astronomy theme on a wedding invitation.

    Contrarian that I am, I argued that one might well do so if, say, the couple to be married met at an astronomy club. The training supervisor conceded, and so I ended up designing an astronomy-themed wedding invitation. I used the Cassiopean gas cloud heart as well as another classic astronomical heart made from colliding galaxies.

    In principle I’m willing to share it online at some stage, but obviously I would have to create an anonymised version first, seeing as I used the same personal details as from the real job. Is there a demand for it?

  15. Messier Tidy Upper

    Beautiful images, wonderful space observatory. Thanks. :-)

    One question if I may :

    The Orion Nebula is one of the largest star birth factories in our galaxy, easily seen to viewers in other galaxies (assuming there are any). It’s a wonderful circumstance that we have front-row seats to it – it’s a mere 1350 light years away or so, making it the nearest such large-scale structure.

    Versus the Rho Ophiuchi region near Antares :

    the region of sky around the star Rho Ophiuchi, an area of the galaxy rich in gas and dust. This star forming factory is only about 400 light years away, making it one of the closest and best-studied objects in the sky.

    Doesn’t that make the Rho Ophiuchi star-forming complex “the nearest such large-scale structure? Or is the Rho Ophiuchi region toomuch smaller to count here?

  16. Messier Tidy Upper

    @14. Adrian Morgan :

    I ended up designing an astronomy-themed wedding invitation. I used the Cassiopean gas cloud heart as well as another classic astronomical heart made from colliding galaxies. In principle I’m willing to share it online at some stage, ..[Snip] .. Is there a demand for it?

    I don’t know, there may well be. A niche one but, yeah it sounds great. If I ever get married I’d certainly love it although I’d have to have approval from the bride! 😉

    @3. Keith Hearn & those seeing China replacing the USA in the North America nebula :

    Guess it shows how much is in the eye of the beholder! 😉

    The human imagination is a marvellous thing and this is an exercise just like looking at pictures in clouds, its amazing what your mind can cretae out of the nebulous cloudy* shapes. I’ve never seen China or the shark in the North America Nebula / W5. Although I might now you’ve suggested it! 😉

    @8. Ross asks: So in deep space, what is the distinction between gas and dust?

    Same as everyhere else, its all in the phase. Gas is well gas and dust is solid if sometimes exceedingly fine particles.

    Also in terms of chemical composition, gas is usually hydrogen and helium (which don’t freeze into solids too frequently) while dust is almost always (?) made of “metallic” elements & compounds in the astronomical sense of the word ie. neither H or He! Yeah, I’m sure the chemists hate that! 😉

    I’m not entirely sure but I think that interstellar dust while often particles of metals and carbon “soot” – esp. around the R Coronae Borealis type stars – would also include water ice particles so in that sense water is actually dusty! Hence the formation of water-rich comets and the various types of asteroids from this interstellar “dust” when planet formation occurs.

    * Yes I *am* aware that “nebulous cloudy” is a tautology. 😉

  17. Messier Tidy Upper

    – esp. around the R Coronae Borealis type stars –

    For those who don’t already know about R Coronae Borealis (“sooty” / “reverse nova”) variables see :



    to find out more. :-)

  18. Iain

    Having spent half my PhD working with that image of omega Centauri, it’s great to see someone else who thinks it’s as great as I do! Our team is really pleased to see our data highlighted as part of the wonderful (and often overlooked) work that Spitzer has done. Thanks!

  19. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ No, thankyou Iain & your team, please thank everyone involved from me. (& I’m sure I’m not the only one!) I love your work and, yes, I too am a huge fan of the former galaxy (?), current globular cluster Omega Centauri. :-)

  20. Ad absurdum per aspera

    I don’t get the North America image at all (well, sure, there’s Alaska, and Hudson Bay, and a rather unlikely bit of tectonics sheared off eastern Brazil, spun it around, and rammed it into Vancouver…) However, at top right, the love child of E-T and Jar-Jar Binks is looking down upon it all in wonderment.

    Seriously: plus or minus the ability of the human brain to see patterns whether they exist or not (cf. the Face on Mars), these are some great images from a remarkable instrument. Thanks for the excerpting and explaining.



Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar