The POT has captured an extremely sharp infrared image of the center of the Milky Way. With 600 light years away, it reveals details of dense eddies of gas and dust in high resolution
According to a statement, the panoramic opens the door to future research on how massive stars are forming and what feeds the supermassive black hole in the core of our galaxy.
Among the features that focus are the outstanding curves of the Arches cluster which contains the densest concentration of stars in our galaxy, as well as the Fivefold cluster with stars a million times brighter than our Sun. The black hole of our galaxy takes shape with a glimpse of the fiery-looking gas ring that surrounds it.
The new view was made possible by the world's largest aerial telescope, the Stratospheric Observatory of Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA. Flying high in the atmosphere, this modified Boeing 747 pointed to its infrared camera called FORCAST, the weak object infrared camera for the SOFIA telescope, to observe warm galactic material that emits at wavelengths of light that other telescopes could not detect. The image combines SOFIA's new perspective of warm regions with previous data exposing very hot and cold material from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Herschel Space Observatory of the European Space Agency.
"It's amazing to see our galactic center with a detail that we have never seen before," said James Radomski, a scientist at the University Space Research Association at the SOFIA Science Center at the NASA Ames Research Center in the Silicon Valley of California. "Studying this area has been like trying to put together a puzzle with missing pieces. SOFIA data fill some of the holes, which brings us significantly closer to having a complete picture."
The central regions of the Milky Way have significantly more of the dense gas and dust that are the building blocks for the new stars compared to other parts of the galaxy. However, there are 10 times fewer massive stars born here than expected. Understanding why this discrepancy exists has been difficult because all the dust between the Earth and the galactic core It gets in the way, but observing with infrared light offers a closer view of the situation.
The new infrared data illuminate structures indicative of the birth of stars near the Fivefold Cluster and warm material near the Arches Cluster that could be the seeds of new stars. See these warm features in high resolution It can help scientists explain how some of the most massive stars in our entire galaxy managed to form so close to each other, in a relatively small region, despite the low birth rate in the surrounding areas.
Scientists can also see more clearly the material that may be feeding the ring around the Central supermassive black hole of our galaxy. The ring is about 10 light years in diameter and plays a key role in bringing matter closer to the black hole, where it can eventually be devoured. The origin of this ring has long been an enigma for scientists because it can be depleted over time, but SOFIA data reveals several structures that could represent material incorporated into it.
Data were taken in July 2019 during the annual SOFIA deployment in Christchurch, New Zealand, where scientists study the skies over the southern hemisphere. The complete and calibrated data set is currently available to astronomers worldwide for future research through the SOFIA Legacy Program.
The Spitzer Space Telescope It will be terminated on January 30, 2020 after operating for more than 16 years. SOFIA continues to explore the infrared universe by studying the wavelengths of middle and far infrared light with high resolution light that are not accessible to other telescopes, and helping scientists understand the formation of stars and planets, the role of magnetic fields in the configuration of our universe and the chemical evolution of galaxies.
Some of the very weak points and dark regions revealed in the SOFIA image can help plan targets for future telescopes, such as the James Webb space telescope.