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In 2010, NASA’s Spitzer telescope captured images of a dark cloud called M17 SWex Dragon.

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A dragon-shaped cloud of dust seems to fly out from a bright explosion in this infrared light image (bottom) from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, a creature that is entirely cloaked in shadow when viewed in the visible part of the spectrum (top).

In this image captured by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, a dragon-shaped cloud of dust gracefully soars among the stars, creating a mesmerizing celestial spectacle. The bottom view showcases the intricate details of this cosmic dragon, while in visible light at the top, the creature mysteriously fades into the surrounding mist, reminiscent of Puff, the Magic Dragon, playfully frolicking in the autumn mist, as evoked in the iconic Peter, Paul, and Mary song.

The infrared revelation by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope unveils the dynamic cosmic narrative of M17 SWex Dragon, a dark cloud actively birthing stars at an intense pace, yet lacking the creation of O stars, the most massive stellar type. In the image’s center, luminous O stars illuminate the M17 nebula, sculpting a colossal “bubble” in the surrounding gas and dust. Positioned within the Sagittarius spiral arm of the Milky Way, stars and gas in this region initiate a galactic “domino effect” as they traverse from right to left, triggering the latest episode of star formation within the dragon-shaped cloud.

As time unfolds, the region is destined to ignite, mirroring the brilliance of the M17 nebula, illuminated by the radiance of youthful massive stars. Meanwhile, a prior surge of star formation left its mark in the far-left region, known as M17 EB, contributing to the cosmic tapestry painted by Spitzer’s lens.

The M17 SWex Dragon is hidden within clouds of opaque dust.

The visible-light perspective of the celestial region vividly showcases the radiant M17 nebula and the incandescent hot gas within the adjacent “bubble.” However, the enigmatic M17 SWex “dragon” remains concealed within opaque dust clouds, impervious to visible light. Only through the lens of infrared observations can the veiled realms within these dust clouds be illuminated, unveiling the nascent phases of star formation.

The bottom image, a three-color composite, merges data from two Spitzer instruments: 3.6-micron (blue) and 8-micron (green) light captured by Spitzer’s infrared array camera, and 24-micron (red) light detected by Spitzer’s multiband imaging photometer. The complementary visible-light image at the bottom is a composite derived from visible-light data of the Digitized Sky Survey (DSS) from the UK Schmidt telescope, combining observations that represent the blue and red light emanating from this cosmic tableau.

In 2010, NASA’s Spitzer telescope captured images of a dark cloud called M17 SWex Dragon.

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