Nasa has released a stunning image of the Milky Way galaxy’s “violent” and super-energised “downtown”, created after 370 observations over the past two decades. The new panorama, touted as a “cosmic masterpiece”, was compiled using a giant mosaic of data from Nasa’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa. The image depicts billions of stars and countless black holes in the centre of the Milky Way.
“What we see in the picture is a violent or energetic ecosystem in our galaxy’s downtown,” Astronomer Daniel Wang of the University of Massachusetts Amherst told Associated Press in an email.
“There are a lot of supernova remnants, black holes, and neutron stars there. Each X-ray dot or feature represents an energetic source, most of which are in the center,” Wang added.
Sharing the image, Nasa noted that the threads of superheated gas and magnetic fields are “weaving a tapestry of energy at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.” According to the US space agency, the latest image expands Chandra’s image, which was based on previous surveys, farther above and below the plane of the Galaxy where most of the Galaxy’s stars reside.
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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration explained that orange, green, blue and purple colours are X-rays from Chandra showing different X-ray energies. The radio data received from MeerKAT are shown in lilac and grey. “One thread is particularly intriguing because it has X-ray and radio emission intertwined. It points perpendicular to the plane of the galaxy and is about 20 light years long but only one-hundredth that size in width,” said Nasa.
A new study of the X-ray and radio properties of this “thread” by Wang, who spent over a year working on it, suggests these features are bound together by thin strips of magnetic fields. Wang’s study describing these results will appear in the June issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, and a preprint is available online.
(With agency inputs)