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"This is the highest-resolution, largest, most sensitive infrared picture ever taken of our Milky Way," said Sean Carey of NASA's Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. Carey is lead investigator for one of two teams responsible for the new picture. "Where previous surveys saw a single source of light, we now see a cluster of stars. With this data, we can learn how massive stars form, map galactic spiral arms and make a better estimate of our galaxy's star-formation rate," Carey explained.
The result is a cosmic tapestry depicting an epic coming-of-age tale for stars. Areas hosting stellar embryos are identified by swaths of green, which are organic molecules, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, illuminated by light from nearby newborn stars. On Earth, these molecules are found in automobile exhaust and charred barbeque grills, essentially anywhere carbon molecules are burned incompletely.