From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published July 21, 2011 03:37 PM

Stars in A Spider Web

There are estimated 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. When looking deep into space isolated stars are seen against an interstellar backgrounds of other galaxies. Those aren't insects trapped in a spider's web -- they're stars in our own Milky Way galaxy, lying between us and another spiral galaxy called IC 342. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope captured this picture in infrared light, revealing the galaxy's bright patterns of dust. At a distance of about 10 million light-years from Earth, IC 342 is relatively close by galaxy standards. However, our vantage point places it directly behind the disk of our own Milky Way. The intervening dust makes it difficult to see in visible light, but infrared light penetrates this veil easily. While stars in our own galaxy appear as blue/white dots, the blue haze is from IC 342's collective starlight. Red shows the dust structures, which contain clumps of new stars. The center of this galaxy, where one might look for a spider, is actually home to an enormous burst of star formation. To either side of the center, a small bar of dust and gas is helping to fuel the new stars.


Our own galaxy would look much the same when seen from the right angle. For most of us the Milky Way appears as a hazy band of white light arching around the entire celestial sphere. The light originates from stars and other material that lie within the galactic plane. Dark regions within the band, such as the Great Rift and the Coalsack, correspond to areas where light from distant stars is blocked by dark nebulae. The Milky Way has a relatively low surface brightness due to the interstellar medium that fills the galactic disk, which prevents us from seeing the bright galactic center. It is thus difficult to see from any urban or suburban location suffering from light pollution. A total integrated magnitude of the whole Milky Way stretching across the night sky has been estimated at −5.0.

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