Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/01/06/milky_way_image/

Hubble probes Milky Way's turbulent core

Fetching new infrared mosaic

By Lester Haines

Posted in Science, 6th January 2009 12:05 GMT

A newly-released composite colour infrared image of our galaxy's core has revealed the Milky Way's centre in all its turbulent glory.

The infrared image of our galaxy's core

The mosaic, showing an area 300 by 115 light years, is made up of 2,304 snaps from the Hubble Space Telescope's Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) combined with a previous survey carried out with the Spitzer Space Telescope's Infrared Astronomy Camera (IRAC).

As the press release explains, the galactic core is hidden in visible light by dust clouds which don't prove an impediment to the infrared spectrum, which NICMOS captured at a spatial resolution of 0.025 light-years - revealing "details in objects as small as 20 times the size of our own solar system".

On show are "the glow from ionized hydrogen gas as well as a multitude of stars", some of them massive and "not confined to one of the three known clusters of massive stars in the Galactic Center, known as the Central cluster, the Arches cluster, and the Quintuplet cluster".

The blurb elaborates: "These three clusters are easily seen as tight concentrations of bright, massive stars in the NICMOS image. The distributed stars may have formed in isolation, or they may have originated in clusters that have been disrupted by strong gravitational tidal forces."

It continues: "At upper left, large arcs of ionized gas are resolved into arrays of intriguingly organized linear filaments indicating perhaps a critical role of the influence of locally strong magnetic fields.

"The lower left region shows pillars of gas sculpted by winds from hot massive stars in the Quintuplet cluster. At the center of the image, ionized gas surrounding the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy is confined to a bright spiral embedded within a circum-nuclear dusty inner-tube-shaped torus."

The full set of images at various resolutions is available here. ®