Monday, December 6, 2021

Godzilla-Like Nebula has been spotted by zombie space telescope

The data from a decommissioned satellite observatory indicates a gas cloud like the famed sci-fi monster Godzilla. A stunning infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows monster traits such as blazing eyes, a roaring mouth, and even a spectacular luminous hand or paw.

While the form is a cosmic coincidence, the new image demonstrates the importance of continuing to use telescopic data after a mission has ended. In this example, we’re looking at data from the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope, which shut down in January 2000 after nearly two years of operation.

While you might argue that this so-called monster in space was detected by a zombie telescope, the person who analyzed the image did not view it that way. I wasn’t hunting for monsters, said astronomer Robert Hurt of the California Institute of Technology in a statement released by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

I just happened to gaze at a section of sky that I’d explored many times before but had never zoomed in on, added Hurt, who has made the vast majority of public photos using Spitzer data since its inception in 2003. Sometimes merely cropping one area differently brings out something you didn’t see before. It was the eyes and lips that screamed ‘Godzilla’ to me.

Hurt and other people who stare at cosmic photos may be prone to a condition known as pareidolia, which is a scientific term for humans seeing features such as faces in seemingly random data. One of the most notable historical instances was the so-called Face on Mars, which was discovered using Viking 1 orbital data in 1976. Viking seemed to be going over when the shadows on a rock formation had come in a pattern to form a face.

JPL joked that additional examples of pareidolia seen in Spitzer data included a black widow spider, a Jack-o-Lantern, a snake, an exposed human brain, and even the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek. This fantastical approach to otherwise serious science is one of the ways we want people to interact with Spitzer’s tremendous work, said Hurt. They seek spots that are interesting and have the potential to tell a tale. 

The region which looks like Godzilla in this image is complex and was first taken by Spitzer using a technology called GLIMPSE. GLIMPSE examined the plane of the Milky Way galaxy in four infrared wavelengths, producing 440,000 pictures, including this one.

JPL claimed that the stars in the top right, where this cosmic Godzilla’s eyes and snout would be, are an unknown distance from Earth but are within our galaxy. Godzilla’s right hand is known as W33 and is located around 7,800 light-years from Earth.

According to JPL, the material in this region is rich in star-forming material, and when new stars formed, their radiation swept away the dust and gas in the area. Changes can also occur when large older stars burst as supernovas, scattering heavy materials that can form into planets or other things.

Spitzer’s infrared vision helped scientists to understand more about this area, which is otherwise dusty and so undetectable to human sight. JPL identified four colors: blue, cyan, green, and red, which represent the four infrared wavelengths utilized by Spitzer, while yellow and white are wavelength combinations. If you’re looking for dust, it’s in green and red, with red being dust burned by stars or supernovas.

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