The Milky Way, aglow with activity

New view of galactic core uses X-ray and infrared data from three orbiting observatories

This detailed portrait of the center of the Milky Way galaxy combines infrared and X-ray images from three orbiting observatories, allowing astronomers to peer through the dust that usually hides the hub of activity at the galaxy’s core.

ALL AGLOW Combining infrared and X-ray images from three orbiting observatories, NASA has unveiled a never-before-seen composite portrait of the Milky Way’s bustling center. NASA, ESA, SSC, CXC, STScI

In this image, yellow represents the short-infrared observations recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope, which reveal star-birthing regions along with hundreds of thousands of stars, some about to break out from their dusty cocoons. Red indicates the longer-wavelength infrared observations taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which show dust clouds set aglow by stellar winds and radiation. Blue and violet represent the X-ray images taken by the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which reveal gases heated to millions of degrees by supernova explosions and by material hurled from the Milky Way’s central, supermassive black hole.

NASA released the composite image on November 10 as part of the International Year in Astronomy, which celebrates the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first glimpse of the heavens through a telescope. Mural-size versions of the image will be displayed at more than 150 schools, museums, nature centers, libraries and planetariums nationwide. 

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