Spitzer images the Cat’s Paw Nebula in all its infrared glory

Two instruments aboard NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope – the Infrared Array Camera and the Multiband Imaging Photometer, or MIPS – have captured a spectacular image of the Cat’s Paw Nebula showing bright green clouds of gas and huge reddish bubbles. The green areas show areas where radiation from hot young stars causes molecules known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons to fluoresce. The reddish bubbles likely are caused by gas and dust in the nebula being heated up by recently-born stars, expanding to create the giant structures.

The Cat’s Paw Nebula, as seen by the Spitzer Space Telescope’s Infrared Array Camera and Multiband Imaging Photometer. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Some of the bubbles many eventually burst, creating U-shaped features more easily visible in a Spitzer image below, taken by the telescope’s Infrared Array Camera alone. The MIPS instrument captures the warm dust visible in the upper image.

The Cat’s Paw Nebula, as seen by Spitzer’s Infrared Array Camera alone. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Cat’s Paw Nebula is located 4,500 to 5,500 light years away. It stretches 80 to 90 light years across.