Spitzer Space Telescope
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From Molecular Cores to Planet Forming Disks (c2d)
Since the 1990s, astronomers have identified thousands of exoplanets, indicating that the Milky Way alone could be host to hundreds of billions of planets. However, we are still learning how these planets formed in the first place, crucial information in understanding the variety of systems researchers have cataloged. To fill in those gaps, astronomers from the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian collaborated with others from around the world on the project named “From Molecular Cores to Planet Forming Disks” (c2d). This program used NASA’s Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope to observe star-forming systems and the protoplanetary disks where future planets are born. The c2d program ended its observational phase in the mid-2000s, but maintains a catalog of these systems that continues to be used by astronomers studying star formation.
Gould's Belt Survey
Gould’s Belt is a long chain of clouds in the Milky Way comprised of stellar nurseries and hot young stars. Stretching across a substantial part of the night sky, Gould’s Belt includes the Orion Nebula — the middle object in Orion’s “sword” — and a number of other star-forming regions. These regions are opaque in visible light, so the Spitzer Gould’s Belt Survey project used NASA’s Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope, the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, and the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii to map the region in infrared and submillimeter light. The survey was led by scientists at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, in collaboration with a number of other institutions around the world. Since the completion of observations in 2006, the data has continued to supply astronomers with insights into the formation of new stars in the Milky Way.
The Cygnus-X Spitzer Legacy Survey
The Cygnus-X region of the Milky Way is a veritable factory for making new stars, including a large number of giant hot stars. The Cygnus-X Spitzer Legacy Survey is dedicated to studying how these giant stars formed, and how they affect the growth of smaller stars in their vicinity. Led by researchers at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, this survey used NASA’s Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope to identify and track the course of star formation in Cygnus-X in multiple wavelengths of infrared light. Though the observational portion of the survey is over, researchers at CfA and many other institutions continue to generate new astronomical insights from its data.
The Star Formation Reference Survey
Astronomers study star formation as a way of understanding our own origins, as well as the structure of galaxies and the evolution of the cosmos as a whole. However, the farther back in time, astronomers often rely on a single measurement type for each galaxy to measure star-formation rates. The Star Formation Reference Survey (SFRS) is designed to improve and assess the reliability of all of these measurements by cataloging nearby star formation, using NASA’s Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope and other observatories. The data produced provides a useful reference data across a wide range of wavelengths in the spectrum of light, which can be applied across surveys of star formation in close-by and distant galaxies. The SFRS observational effort is led by astronomers at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, in collaboration with other researchers around the world.