Eternal Life of Stardust Portrayed in New Image

Sept. 15, 2006 -- A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, an infrared observatory orbiting the sun, is helping astronomers understand how stardust is recycled in galaxies.
Remy Indebetouw, a research scientist in U.Va.’s astronomy department, co-leads a team of scientists who created the unprecedented image. Indebetouw’s team is working with NASA to study the hidden birth of massive stars that drive and energize the ecosystem of the galaxy.

Indebetouw is one of a handful of people responsible for producing the final images and scientific measurements from Spitzer, and he is a member of the core group who wrote the observing proposal.

Their cosmic portrait, which appears in the Sept. 4 issue of Time magazine, shows the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy. Astronomers are studying Spitzer’s view of this galaxy to learn more about the circular journey of stardust, from stars to space and back. The image is giving astronomers the most detailed quantitative look ever of how much dust is being consumed and ejected by stars.

This research is part of a Spitzer program called Surveying the Agents of a Galaxy's Evolution, also known as SAGE. The international SAGE team includes more than 50 astronomers.

The SAGE project has spawned several other U.Va. research endeavors with Spitzer and other telescopes.

• Indebetouw leads a detailed study of the violent interactions between newly born stars and their environment in the Tarantula Nebula;

• Professor Michael Skrutskie is a key scientific advisor to the entire Spitzer project;

• Professor Steve Majewski and Skrutskie are studying the structure and origin of the Milky Way;

• Indebetouw, Skrutskie and post-doctoral fellow Jeffrey Bary are observing the formation of individual stars;

• Assistant professor Kelsey Johnson is studying extreme star formation in the universe;

• Professor Trinh Thuan and J.D. Hamilton Professor of Astronomy Robert O’Connell are observing the assembly of galaxies and clusters of galaxies;

• and assistant professor Francisca Markwick-Kemper and research scientist Andrew Markwick-Kemper are studying the nature and origin