NASA’s SOFIA telescope captures unprecedented details at the center of the Milky Way

The New Year’s Day look also seems to apply to our Milky Way galaxy, according tomedia New Atlas, as NASA has released a new panoramic infrared image of the center of the Milky Way. Using data collected by the Stratospheric Infrared Astronomy Observatory (SOFIA), the image reveals new details about certain areas that have traditionally been difficult to capture.

NASA's SOFIA telescope captures unprecedented details at the center of the Milky Way

The image covers an area of more than 600 light-years, and although the center of the Milky Way is one of the most photographed areas, this new infrared view highlights previously unprecedented details. At the top of the central section, you can see a clearer-than-usual cluster of arched clusters – the densest known clusters in the Milky Way. The supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way can be thought of as a bright white speck in the right middle corner of the image, glowing due to the surrounding superheated dust.

“We are filling the most active star-forming regions at the center of the Milky Way, which are missing from previous images,” said Matt Hankins, lead researcher on the project. “

NASA's SOFIA telescope captures unprecedented details at the center of the Milky Way

These new details are realized thanks to SOFIA’s unique design. The telescope, mounted on a Boeing 747SP jet, flies at an altitude of 40,000 feet and can bypass most of the atmospheric interference that interferes with ground-based observatories. Infrared allows the instrument to peer into the dust cloud that covers the visible light telescope. SOFIA also offers some advantages over other infrared instruments. First, it can be exposed for a shorter period of time – a longer exposure dilutes the details of the bright parts of the sky. And because SOFIA operates at the medium-infrared wavelength, it can see cold dust while absorbing the thermal dust signal.

The image is made up of infrared data taken by several telescopes. The blue and green portion is data obtained using the dark object infrared camera FORCAST during the SOFIA telescope’s eight SOFIA flights. The red part comes from data from the Herschel Space Observatory, and the white area comes from the Spitzer Space Telescope.

The new images will help inform future observations, including the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.

The study describing the discovery has been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal for publication.

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