Turbulent core of the Milky Way – you’d not like to fly over there :-)

PHOTO IN THE NEWS: Milky Way’s Turbulent Core in Hi-Res

milky way center image

January 6, 2008—The first infrared panorama of the Milky Way’s center (detail of the full panorama above) has revealed a previously unknown population of massive stars scattered across the turbulent zone around our galaxy’s core.


A composite of Hubble and Spitzer space-telescope observations, the
panorama covers a 300-by-115-light-year area with a high enough
resolution that—even at a distance of 26,000 light-years from
Earth—objects as small as 20 times the size of our solar system are
brought to light.

Among these object are about 26 million stars, 300 of which can be
identified as massive stars that are relatively young—a few million
years old or less. About two-thirds of those 300 are single stars that
are unexpectedly lying outside the three known clusters of star
formation.

“Because these stars are in isolation, they either formed this
way or they spun out recently from very massive star clusters,” said
study leader Q. Daniel Wang, of the University of Massachusetts.

The new view also gives scientists the sharpest look yet at odd
structures within the galactic core, including fluffy fingers of gas
sculpted by winds streaming from a large star cluster (lower left) and
the pinwheel of material spiraling into the supermassive black hole at our galaxy’s heart (lower right).

“This is an important step in establishing the center of our galaxy as
a laboratory to study the complex interactions between massive stars
and the harsh environments of the nuclear regions of galaxies in
general,” Wang said.

He and colleagues unveiled the new image Monday at an American Astronomical Society meeting in Long Beach, California.

—Victoria Jaggard

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Hubble
image courtesy NASA, ESA, and Q.D. Wang (University of Massachusetts,
Amherst); Spitzer image courtesy NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and
S. Stolovy (Spitzer Science Center/Caltech)

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