A green ring fit for a Green Lantern, the superhero protectors of peace and justice throughout the universe, has been spied by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope in the murky clouds encircled by the tail of the constellation Scorpius.
The ring glows in infrared colors invisible to the naked eye, but show up brightly in the telescope's infrared detectors. Astronomers believe the rings are sculpted by bubbles of hot gas and dust blown by the powerful light of "O" stars, the most massive stars known to exist.
The difference in colors — and thus the reason for the green ring — stems from how the light and wind are interacting with the gas and dust, explained Sean Carey, a Spitzer scientist at the California Institute of Technology.
"The main reason that there is no green inside the bubble is that the smallest dust grains, the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which produce the green emission, are destroyed in the inside of the bubble by a combination of the ultraviolet radiation and the shocks driving through the gas," he said.
The slightly larger dust grains remaining inside the bubble are heated up by the radiation from the O stars and glow red. The green ring, by contrast, is where the green glowing hydrocarbons and larger grains are still present.
According to Spitzer scientists, these bubbles are common throughout our Milky Way galaxy, similar to the way that many Green Lanterns patrol different sectors of space. The small objects at the lower right area of the image may, in fact, be similar regions seen at a much great distance across the galaxy.
NASA hopes to learn more about these bubbles and you can help them by joining The Milky Way Project where you can find and catalog bubbles in our galaxy. Ultimately, the project will give us all a better understanding about the life cycle of stars.
More images of stars and bubbles:
- Hubble captures image of star-forming lab
- Witness the glorious birth and death of stars
- Infrared portrait traces the life cycle of stars
- Hot new stars featured in cosmic portrait
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).