The Spitzer Space Telescope has photographed young stars in the "countryside" of our Milky Way galaxy. The picture shows dozens of newborn stars in their dusty birthplace, shooting jets into the depths of space. The young stars sit far from the busy galactic center, in a part of our galaxy which houses relatively few stars.
The new photograph was taken as part of the Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire (GLIMPSE 360) project. This will create a 360-degree picture of the galaxy will will be completed later in 2013. The project studies the structure of our galaxy including a bulge in the spiral with detail never before available. So far, 130 degrees of images have been completed by the orbiting telescope.
Spitzer and several other observatories have recorded images of the more-densely packed inner regions of our galaxy, but the outer-lying regions have been studied less frequently. Data from this observatory is combined with observations made by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) to yield the most telling results. In this image, Spitzer information is recorded in blue and green while red represents WISE recording.
"We sometimes call this flyover country. We are finding all sorts of new star formation in the lesser-known areas at the outer edges of the galaxy," Barbara Whitney, an astronomer from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said.
Some of the stars producing these powerful jets are so encased in the dust surrounding them that they cannot even be seen in the Spitzer images - only the jets give away their presence.
The general public is also taking part in uncovering discoveries from the Spitzer images through the Milky Way Project. People carefully study the images looking for tell-tale bubbles that could signal the presence of a large, hot star. One of the structures already found by amateurs include an area where many small bubbles were huddled together. Astronomers later determined that the collection formed from an earlier single bubble.
"This crowdsourcing approach really works. We are examining more of the hierarchical bubbles identified by the volunteers to understand the prevalence of triggered star formation in our galaxy," Charles Kerton of Iowa State University at Ames, said.
Our solar system lies about two-thirds of the way out from the center of the galaxy, in a large outgrowth of the Milky Way's Perseus spiral arm.
Searching for previously-unknown sites of star formation in the new images, Whitney and her team have been successful 163 times so far. While some of these young stars are loners, others form in large stellar nurseries.
Researchers looking at the new images have also found that old, red giant stars are rare in the outskirts of our galaxy.
Research on the young stars was presented June 5 at the American Astronomical Society in Indianapolis.