Astral Catherine Wheel

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Looking like a spider’s web swirled into a spiral, the galaxy IC 342 presents its delicate pattern of dust in this image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Seen in infrared light, the faint starlight gives way to the glowing bright patterns of dust found throughout the galaxy’s disk.

At a distance of about 10 million light-years, 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. It belongs to the same group as its even more obscured galactic neighbor, Maffei 2.

IC 342 is nearly face-on to our view, giving a clear, top-down view of the structure of its disk. It has a low surface brightness compared to other spirals, indicating a lower density of stars (seen here as a blue haze). Its dust structures show up much more vividly (red). Blue dots are stars closer to us, in our own Milky Way.

New stars are forming in the disk at a healthy clip. The very center glows especially brightly in the infrared, highlighting an enormous burst of star formation occurring in this tiny region. To either side of the center, a small bar of dust and gas is helping to fuel this central star formation.

Data from Spitzer’s infrared array camera (IRAC) are shown in blue (3.6 microns), green (4.5 microns) and red (5.8 and 8.0 microns).

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech. Star Walk app for iPad – European Space Agency

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