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The Great Galactic Black Widow

The Black Widow Nebula
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/J. Keller (SSC)

Written by Linda Vu, Spitzer Science Center
October 28, 2005

Unsuspecting prey be warned! Hiding in the darkest corner of the constellation Circinus is a gigantic black widow spider waiting for its next meal. For decades, this galactic creepy crawler has remained largely invisible, cunningly escaping visible-light detection. At last, it has finally been caught by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope's dust-piercing, infrared eyes.

The spider is actually a star-forming cloud of gas and dust. In this Halloween interactive image comparison, an hourglass-shaped insignia, typically found on the underbelly of a black widow spider, can be seen faintly in the visible-light image from Digital Sky Survey (DSS). As Spitzer's infrared image fades in, the veil of galactic dust shrouding the rest of the spider is lifted to reveal a poisonous widow.

In the Spitzer image, the two opposing bubbles that make up the black widow's body are being formed in opposite directions by the powerful outflows from massive groups of forming stars. The baby stars can be seen inside the widow's "stomach" where the two bubbles meet.

When individual stars form from molecular clouds of gas and dust they produce intense radiation and very strong particle winds. Both the radiation and the stellar winds blow the dust outward from the star creating a cavity or, bubble.

In the case of the Black Widow Nebula, astronomers suspect that a large cloud of gas and dust condensed to create multiple clusters of massive star formation. The combined winds from these large stars probably blew out bubbles into the direction of least resistance, forming a double-bubble.



The Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This website is maintained by the Spitzer Science Center, located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology and part of NASA's Infrared Processing and Analysis Center. Privacy Policy

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