Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Star formation at work

AKARI's Infrared Camera (IRC), provides a close-up view of part of the Large Magellanic Cloud.

This false-colour composite image was taken by the AKARI satellite in near- and mid-infrared wavelengths (3, 7 and 11 microns), and shows a portion of the Large Magellanic Cloud.

This galaxy, a place of intense star formation, was observed by AKARI during its whole-sky survey and, for this image, during detailed observations.

This image shows many old stars (visible as white dots) in addition to the interstellar clouds. It enables astronomers to study the way stars recycle their constituent gases and return them to the interstellar medium at the end of their lives.

These and new data obtained by AKARI will unlock the secrets of how both the Large Magellanic Cloud and our own Galaxy have formed and evolved to their current state.

AKARI's Far-infrared view of
the Large Magellanic Cloud
The Large Magellanic Cloud is a neighbouring galaxy to the Milky Way, the galaxy to which our Solar System belongs. It is located extremely close by astronomical standards, at a distance of 160 000 light years and it contains about 10 thousand million stars, about one tenth of our Galaxy's stellar population.

The image is a far-infrared (60, 90 and 140 microns) view obtained by the Far-Infrared Surveyor (FIS) instrument on board AKARI. It reveals the distribution of interstellar matter – dust and gas – over the entire galaxy. Dust grains in these interstellar clouds are heated by the light from newly born stars, and subsequently re-radiate this energy in the form of infrared light. So, the infrared emission indicates that many stars are currently being formed. Such copious star formation activity across a whole galaxy is called a 'star burst'.

The nature of the Large Magellanic Cloud is further revealed by the contrasting distribution of the interstellar matter and the stars. The interstellar matter forms a disk-like structure whilst the stars are located in the 'spindle' shape in the lower half of the image. This shows that the two components are clearly displaced from one another.

Astronomers believe that the observed star formation and the displacement of these two components in the Large Magellanic Cloud were both triggered by the gravitational force generated by our own Galaxy, the Milky Way.

The bright region in the bottom-left of the image is known as the 'Tarantula Nebula'. It is a very productive factory of stars.

The Large Magellanic
Cloud in visible light
Click to ENLARGE

ESA International
1st November 2006
Press Release
more from PPARC
Micrometre: a measurement for wavelengths of infrared radiation.
Some people in astronomy and the semiconductor business use the old name micron
Distances shorter than 1 µm 1 micrometre (micron)
Items with lengths between 1-10 µm (microns)
1.55 µm — wavelength of
light used in optical fibre
6 µm —
anthrax spore
6-8 µm — diameter of a human
red blood cell
7 µm — diameter of the
nucleus of typical eukaryotic cell
7 µm — width of strand of
spider web
1-10 µm — diameter of typical
about 10 µm — size of a
fog, mist or cloud water droplet
Distances longer than 10 µm
Science Daily: Large & small stars in Harmonious coexistence
Famous Quotes Even though your kids will consistently
do the exact opposite of what you're telling them to do,
you have to keep loving them just as much. Bill Cosby

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