The Milky Way's Middle

Getting a clear view

10:05am, February 18, 2002

Astronomers can peer at galaxies clear across the universe, but they have a hard time looking at the center of our own Milky Way. Only 26,000 light-years from Earth, the galaxy's core is like a smoggy metropolis. Shrouds of dust mask a hotbed of activity. In this teeming galactic city, hundreds of thousands of young stars emerge from their birthing clouds, and massive, elderly stars meet explosive deaths that leave behind X ray-emitting corpses. And at the very center lies a quiescent monster, a black hole some 2.5 million times as heavy as the sun.

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