This image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Cat's Paw Nebula, so named for the large, round features that create the impression of a feline footprint. The nebula is a star-forming region in the Milky Way galaxy, located in the constellation Scorpius. Estimates of its distance from Earth range from about 4,200 to about 5,500 light-years.
Framed by green clouds, the bright red bubbles are the dominant feature in the image, which was created using data from two of Spitzer's instruments. After gas and dust inside the nebula collapse to form stars, the stars may in turn heat up the pressurized gas surrounding them, causing it to expand into space and create bubbles.
Spitzer is an infrared telescope, and infrared light is useful to astronomers because it can penetrate thick clouds of gas and dust better than optical light (the kind visible to the human eye). The black filaments running horizontally through the nebula are regions of gas and dust so dense, not even infrared light can pass through them. These dense regions may soon be sites where another generation of stars will form.
Read the full story at JPL News.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena, California. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the IPAC at Caltech.