Tuesday, 06 Jan, 2009 Science
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Astronomers Reveal the Sharpest Infrared Picture of Milky Way's Center

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On January 5, 2009 astronomers managed to obtain an unprecedented image of the Milky Way. They observed an infrared picture, which scientists claim is the sharpest image of the roiling furnace at the core of the galaxy ever taken. It illustrates huge filaments of gas along with a new population of massive stars. It is worth mentioning that the center of the Milky Way is composed of hot gas and dust. Researchers believe that the center of the galaxy harbors a black hole that has a weight of approximately 4 million Suns.

In order to take the picture of the center of the galaxy (which cannot be easily viewed at visible wavelengths due to the fact that the dust distorters and absorbs them) astronomers used infrared light that has the ability of passing through material with ease.

Scientists that gathered at the American Astronomical Society meeting, which was held in Long Beach, California, presented the pictures shot during 144 orbits of the Hubble Space Telescope combined with images shot by the Spitzer Space Telescope. The Hubble scene is 10 times sharper than the Spitzer map, covering a 300- by 115-light-year area about the heart of the Milky Way. Our planet is located about 26,000 light years from the center of the galaxy.

The renovated map shows 600,000 stars that include 200 new massive stars. All of the revealed stars illuminate the gas that surrounds them with powerful explosions of radiation. These stars appear to be loners, which is rather interesting since a lot of massive stars found near the center of the Milky Way are either located near its black hole or in one of the two known groups of stars bound gravitationally, called Quintuplet and Arches. Astronomers presume that the isolated stars could have formed outside of the star clusters or they were separated by the gravitational forces present in the region that surrounds the black hole found in the center of the galaxy.

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