Chandra takes in bright lights, big city of Milky Way
NASA NEWS RELEASE
Posted: January 10, 2002

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has made a stunning, high-energy panorama of the central regions of our Milky Way galaxy. The findings are an important step toward understanding the most active area of the Milky Way as well as other galaxies throughout the universe.

Chandra
This 400 by 900 light-year mosaic of several Chandra images of the central region of our Milky Way galaxy reveals hundreds of white dwarf stars, neutron stars, and black holes bathed in an incandescent fog of multimillion-degree gas. The supermassive black hole at the center of the Galaxy is located inside the bright white patch in the center. Credit: NASA/UMass/D.Wang et al.
DOWNLOAD HIGH-RES VERSION OF IMAGE

 
Like a sprawling megalopolis, the new Chandra images show hundreds of white dwarf stars, neutron stars and black holes bathed in an incandescent fog of multimillion-degree gas around a supermassive black hole.

"The center of the galaxy is where the action is," said Q. Daniel Wang of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. "With these images, we get a new perspective of the interplay between stars, gas and dust, as well as the magnetic fields and gravity in the region. We can see how such forces affect the immediate vicinity and may influence other aspects of the galaxy."

Wang presented the montage of 30 separate Chandra images at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, and in a paper published in the Jan. 10, 2002, issue of the journal Nature. The images, made with the Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer (ACIS) July 16-21, 2001, covered a 400- by 900-light-year swath of the center of the galaxy.

One immediate result was that the team could separate out the individual X-ray sources from the diffuse glow produced by hot gas. "We can now see that the sources are responsible for most of the X-rays from highly ionized iron previously attributed to the diffuse glow," said Eric Gotthelf, of Columbia University in New York, a co-author. "So we must now revise our notion of the hot gas, which appears to be about 10 times cooler than previously thought. It's only a relatively mild 10 million degrees!"

The diffuse X-ray emission seems to be related to the turmoil and density of matter in the inner Milky Way. Stars are forming there at a much more rapid rate than in the galactic "suburbs." Many of the most massive stars in the galaxy are located in the galactic center and are furiously boiling off their outer layers in searing stellar winds. Supernova explosions are far more common in the region and send shock waves booming through the inner galaxy.

And then there is the three-million-solar-mass black hole at the epicenter. Although Chandra recently observed a small flare from the vicinity of the central supermassive black hole, the power output near the black hole remains relatively low.

However, an unexplained fluorescence of iron atoms, observed by the team to be associated with molecular clouds a few hundred light-years away, may indicate that the supermassive black hole was hundreds of times brighter in the past. Alternatively, the fluorescence could be due to high-energy particles called cosmic rays produced by supernovae or bygone eruptions from the supermassive black hole.

Chandra
A multiwavelength close-up of the recent massive star-forming region near the Galactic center. Credit: X-ray: NASA/UMass/D.Wang et al., Radio: VLA, Mid-Infrared: MSX
 
"The galactic center is dominated by very high pressures due to the hot gas component and the strong magnetic fields," said Cordelia Lang, also of the University of Massachusetts, and a co-author. "It's a nice place to visit with a telescope but I wouldn't want to live there."

The Chandra map shows that the high-pressure and high- temperature gas is apparently escaping from the center into the halo of the galaxy. "A galaxy is a sort of ecosystem, and the activity in the center can seriously affect the evolution of the galaxy as a whole," said Wang. "Astronomically, the center of the Milky Way is really in our backyard, and, therefore, provides an excellent laboratory to learn about the cores of other galaxies."

The ACIS instrument was developed for NASA by Pennsylvania State University, University Park, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program, and TRW, Inc., Redondo Beach, Calif., is the prime contractor. The Smithsonian's Chandra X-ray Center controls science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

Women Astronauts
Learn about women astronauts,what they do, and how they got to where they are today. Read their story and how attitudes towards women in space changed.
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Columbia Report
A reproduction of the official accident investigation report into the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its crew of seven.
 Choose your store:
U.S. - U.K. - E.U. - Worldwide

Mars Panorama

DISCOUNTED! This 360 degree image was taken by the Mars Pathfinder, which landed on the Red Planet in July 1997. The Sojourner Rover is visible in the image.
 Choose your store:
U.S.

Apollo 11 Mission Report
Apollo 11 - The NASA Mission Reports Vol. 3 is the first comprehensive study of man's first mission to another world is revealed in all of its startling complexity. Includes DVD!
 Choose your store:
U.S. - U.K. - E.U. - Worldwide

Rocket DVD
If you've ever watched a launch from Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg Air Force Base or even Kodiak Island Alaska, there's no better way to describe what you witnessed than with this DVD.
 Choose your store:
U.S. - U.K. - E.U. - Worldwide

Apollo 11 special patch
Special collectors' patch marking the 35th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing is now available.
 Choose your store:
U.S. - U.K.

Final Shuttle Mission Patch

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!

The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is now available in our store. Get this piece of history!
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

STS-134 Patch

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!

The final planned flight of space shuttle Endeavour is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-134. Available in our store!
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Ares 1-X Patch
The official embroidered patch for the Ares 1-X rocket test flight, is available for purchase.
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Apollo Collage
This beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Project Orion
The Orion crew exploration vehicle is NASA's first new human spacecraft developed since the space shuttle a quarter-century earlier. The capsule is one of the key elements of returning astronauts to the Moon.
 U.S. STORE


Fallen Heroes Patch Collection
The official patches from Apollo 1, the shuttle Challenger and Columbia crews are available in the store.
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Spaceflight Now Plus
The web's best space video service! Get additional video, audio, image and virtual reality content for a low-cost monthly or annual subscription fee. Subscriptions start at $5.95/£3.50. Click here to see what's currently available.
 SUBSCRIBE (U.S. Dollars)
 SUBSCRIBE (U.K. Pounds)

Hubble Posters
Stunning posters featuring images from the Hubble Space Telescope and world-renowned astrophotographer David Malin are now available from the Astronomy Now Store.
 U.S. STORE
 U.K. & WORLDWIDE STORE

Get e-mail updates
Sign up for our NewsAlert service and have the latest news in astronomy and space e-mailed direct to your desktop (privacy note: your e-mail address will not be used for any other purpose).
Enter your e-mail address:

Station Calendar
NEW! This beautiful 12" by 12" wall calendar features stunning images of the International Space Station and of the people, equipment, and space craft associated with it, as it takes shape day by day in orbit high above the Earth.
 U.S. STORE
 U.K. & WORLDWIDE STORE

INDEX | PLUS | NEWS ARCHIVE | LAUNCH SCHEDULE
ASTRONOMY NOW | STORE

ADVERTISE

© 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.