Desktop Project Part 9: Again I see IC 342

Desktop Project Part 9: Again I see IC 342

Desktop Project Part 9: Again I see IC 342

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
April 3 2012 9:25 AM

Desktop Project Part 9: Again I see IC 342

[Over the past few weeks, I've collected a metric ton of cool pictures to post, but somehow have never gotten around to actually posting them. Sometimes I was too busy, sometimes too lazy, sometimes they just fell by the wayside... but I decided my computer's desktop was getting cluttered, and I'll never clean it up without some sort of incentive. I've therefore made a pact with myself to post one of the pictures with an abbreviated description every day until they're gone, thus cleaning up my desktop, showing you neat and/or beautiful pictures, and making me feel better about my work habits. Enjoy.]

IC 342 is a relatively close by face-on spiral galaxy. At 10 million light years distant, it should actually be easily visible in binoculars and would be renowned for its incredible beauty except for one small problem: we have to peer through the thick dust choking our own galaxy to see it. It's like sitting in a smoky room and trying to see something out the window on the far side of it. Your view is obscured.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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But infrared light passes through dust quite easily, so when you turn an IR telescope -- like NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope -- toward IC 342, what you get is spidery magic!

[Click to embiggen.]

Holy wow! What you're seeing is the dust in IC 342 glowing where stars are being born; giant gas clouds are star birth factories, and are shrouded in dust. The stars' light warms the dust up and it glows. The vast complex of nebulae trace out the spiral arms, looking like a web knit by an astronomically-minded spider.

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I've written about IC 342 twice before. Once was when the NOAO released a gorgeous image of it taken by my friend Travis Rector. Seriously, click that link. The image is spectacular.

The other time was last year when WISE, another infrared observatory, took a look at IC 342. The view is pretty similar, as you might expect -- the parts of the infrared spectrum making up both images are nearly the same -- but Spitzer's mirror is twice the size of the one in WISE, so the resolution is somewhat better.

Still, the more the merrier! IC 342 is a dramatic example of a nearby face-on spiral, and there aren't too many of those around. Even though our own Milky Way galaxy has photobombed it into relative obscurity, the prying eyes of science are pretty good at seeing through all that.


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