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Galactic Ghost Buster: Who Ya Gonna Call?
10.16.06
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(Saturn sounds)

Narrator:

They look like ghouls, ghosts and long-legged beasts. The universe is full of things that go bump in the night. NASA spacecraft have encountered all sorts of creepy sounds and sights traveling through the cosmos.

You can’t see them, but something’s out there. Who ya gonna call? The Galactic Ghostbuster.

That’s what you might call NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. It uses heat-seeking infrared vision, to flush out all kinds of cosmic critters.

Dr. Sean Carey, Spitzer Scientist

One way to think about Spitzer is that it's a galactic ghost buster. What it's able to do is it's able to peel back all the curtains of darkness in our own galaxy and reveal all the hidden massive stars and other beasts and monsters that are lurking in the plane of our own galaxy.

The way we see, in visible light, what you're seeing is visible light reflected off my skin, off my shirt, which is how you get the colors. You see, I'm wearing a nice blue shirt. In the infrared light, what you're seeing is the thermal emissions. So you’re seeing the heat radiation from me actually, so I'm glowing in the infrared where I'm not glowing in the visible.

Narrator:

At the Spitzer Science Center he has earned a spooky knickname after he spotted the image of a screaming ghoul lurking behind blankets of cosmic dust, 39-hundred light-years away in the constellation Cygnus.

Carey

My first name is Sean so my first initial is "S". My last name is Carey. People at the Science Center are very bright, so they can put two and two together, so they go S-Carey. Ah, you must be SCarey.

Narrator:

He recently spotted a slithering dark shadow in the sky --

Carey

Well what we found was a snake on the galactic plane.

In the belly of the beast -- Carey found something eerie. Those yellow and orange spots? Those aren’t digested rodents from a recent meal. They're the beginnings of gargantuan stars.

The bright red spot its tummy is a monstrous star embryo straight out of a sci fi film.

Carey

You're going think of it as something growing inside of it. It's more like an alien from one of those, from one of those horror movies that's going to burst out it and totally destroy it. So it's going to be a large star. It's going to be something between 20 and 50 times the mass of our own sun.

Narrator:

These observations help scientists understand how monster stars form in outer space.

Carey

I think the galaxy is a pretty scary place if you think about it. It's also a very exciting place to astronomers because you can learn about stars. But you think about all the stuff that's going on out there. You have these stars. It's a very violent kind of place and there are all sorts of surprises and interesting things and you never know what you're going to see if you look hard enough.

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