Three major sources contribute to the far-infrared sky: our Solar System, our Galaxy, and our Universe. The above image, in representative colors, is a projection of the entire infrared sky created from years of observations by the robot spacecraft COBE.
Our Solar System is evidenced most prominently by the S-shaped blue sash called zodiacal light, created by small pieces of rock and dust orbiting between the Sun and Jupiter. Our Galaxy is evidenced by the bright band of light that crossed the middle of the image, created mostly by dust that laces the disk of our Milky Way.
Visible are large bubbles of hot gas inflated by the winds of massive stars soon after they form. Current models posit that these expanding bubbles sweep up gas and sometimes even collide, frequently creating regions dense enough to gravitationally collapse into yet more stars.
The star factory Cygnus-X spans over 600 light years, contains over a million times the mass of our Sun, and shines prominently on wide angle infrared panoramas of the night sky. Cygnus X lies 4,500 light years away towards the constellation of the Swan (Cygnus).
In a few million years, calm will likely be restored and a large open cluster of stars will remain — which itself will disperse over the next 100 million years.
The distant “ice giant” planets Uranus and Neptune look like worlds aflame in new photos captured by Hawaii’s Keck Observatory.
To the naked eye, Neptune would appear blue and Uranus bluish-green. But Caltech astronomer Mike Brown snapped the new pictures in infrared light, using Keck’s adaptive optics system. So the two planets blaze reddish-orange, like embers glowing in the dark night of deep space.
Brown posted the pictures via Twitter from Sept. 18 to Sept. 20. Two shots show bright streaks on Neptune, which is about 17 times as massive as Earth and orbits 30 times farther from the sun than our planet does.