The ashes of dying stars collect in clumps around the galaxy, as seen in a new three-dimensional map of the Milky Way’s interstellar dust. The map focuses on a nearly 180° view of the plane of the galaxy. The atlas, created from observations using the Isaac Newton Telescope in the Canary Islands, looks out over 16,000 light-years from Earth.
Astronomers led by Stuart Sale of the University of Oxford measured the brightness of more than 38 million stars at three wavelengths of light to make the map, which they presented June 23 at the Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting in Portsmouth, England. The map reveals where and how dust clumps in the galaxy, which can tell researchers about the life cycle of atoms and molecules in the Milky Way. The data may also let astronomers make more precise measurements of stars, whose light gets filtered by intervening dust.