A Green Ring Fit for a Superhero
This glowing emerald nebula seen by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope is reminiscent of the glowing ring wielded by the superhero Green Lantern. In the comic books, the diminutive Guardians of the Planet "Oa" forged his power ring, but astronomers believe rings like this are actually sculpted by the powerful light of giant "O" stars, the most massive type of star known to exist.
Named RCW 120, this region of hot gas and glowing dust can be found in the murky clouds encircled by the tail of the constellation Scorpius. The ring of dust actually is glowing in infrared colors that our eyes cannot see, but show up brightly when viewed by Spitzer's infrared detectors. At the center of this ring are a couple of giant stars whose intense ultraviolet light has carved out the bubble, though they blend in with other stars when viewed in infrared.
This bubble is far from unique. Just as the Guardians of Oa have selected many beings to serve as Green Lanterns and patrol different sectors of space, Spitzer has found that such bubbles are common and an can be found around O stars throughout our Milky Way galaxy. The small objects at the lower right area of the image may themselves be similar regions seen at much greater distances across the galaxy.
Rings like this are so common in Spitzer's observations that astronomers have even enlisted the help of the public to help them find and catalog them all. Anyone interested in joining the search as a citizen scientist can visit "The Milky Way Project," part of the "Zooniverse" of public astronomy projects, at http://www.milkywayproject.org/.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech