NASA telescope spots space "ghosts" hiding planets, stars

NASA Spitzer telescope spots cosmic phenomenon dubbed "coreshine”

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NASA said astronomers have spotted a new, cosmic phenomenon they call "coreshine," which could help scientists determine the age and make up of distant stars and planets.

Using observations from  NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to measure infrared light deflecting off cold, dark cocoons, known as cores,  where young stars and planets are forming, astronomers found starlight from nearby stars reflecting off of these cores.  The reflection or coreshine reveals information about the star and planet age and consistency.

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"Dark clouds in our Milky Way galaxy, far from Earth, are huge places where new stars are born. But they are shy and hide themselves in a shroud of dust so that we cannot see what happens inside," said Laurent Pagani of the Observatoire de Paris and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, both in France. "We have found a new way to peer into them. They are like ghosts because we see them but we also see through them."

The finding amounts to a new tool for not only studying the dust making up the dark cores, but also for assessing their age. The more developed star-forming cores will have larger dust grains, so, using this tool, astronomers can better map their ages across our Milky Way galaxy. Coreshine can also help in constructing three-dimensional models of the cores -- the deflected starlight is scattered in a way that is dependent on the cloud structures, Pagani stated.

Pagani said his team found coreshine across dozens of dark cores in a paper published today in Science.

Interestingly, the Spitzer measurements are based on data from the mission's public archive, taken before the telescope ran out of its liquid coolant in May 2009 and began its current warm mission, NASA stated.  

Spitzer images also recently spotted large soccer-ball-shaped carbon molecules known as "Buckyballs," in space for the first time. The molecules are named for their resemblance to architect Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes, which have interlocking circles on the surface of a partial sphere, NASA stated. Observed in a laboratory 25 years ago, the molecules were thought to be floating in space, but had escaped detection until now, NASA said.

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