Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Dramatic new portrait helps define Milky Way's shape, contents

21.03.2014

Using more than 2 million images collected by NASA's orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, a team of Wisconsin scientists has stitched together a dramatic 360 degree portrait of the Milky Way, providing new details of our galaxy's structure and contents.

The new composite picture (viewable at http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/

GLIMPSE360

More than 200 million images like this one have been stitched together by Wisconsin astronomers to make a 360-degree portrait of the plane of our galaxy, the Milky Way. In this image, the billowing pink clouds are massive stellar nurseries. The stringy green filaments are the blown out remnants of a star that exploded in a supernova.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Wisconsin-Madison

glimpse360), using infrared images gathered over the last decade, was unveiled today (March 20, 2014) at a TED conference in Vancouver. The galactic portrait provides an unprecedented look at the plane of our galaxy, using the infrared imagers aboard Spitzer to cut through the interstellar dust that obscures the view in visible light.

"For the first time, we can actually measure the large-scale structure of the galaxy using stars rather than gas," explains Edward Churchwell, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of astronomy whose group compiled the new picture, which looks at a thin slice of the galactic plane. "We've established beyond the shadow of a doubt that our galaxy has a large bar structure that extends halfway out to the sun's orbit. We know more about where the Milky Way's spiral arms are."

Lofted into space in 2003, the Spitzer Space Telescope has far exceeded its planned two-and-a-half-year lifespan. Although limited by the depletion of the liquid helium used to cool its cameras, the telescope remains in heliocentric orbit, gathering a trove of astrophysical data that promises to occupy a new generation of astronomers.

In addition to providing new revelations about galactic structure, the telescope and the images processed by the Wisconsin team have made possible the addition of more than 200 million new objects to the catalog of the Milky Way.

"This gives us some idea about the general distribution of stars in our galaxy, and stars, of course, make up a major component of the baryonic mass of the Milky Way," notes Churchwell, whose group has been collecting and analyzing Spitzer data for more than a decade in a project known as GLIMPSE (Galactic Legacy Infrared Midplane Survey Extraordinaire). "That's where the ballgame is."

The new infrared picture, known as GLIMPSE360, was compiled by a team led by UW-Madison astronomer Barb Whitney. It is interactive and zoomable, giving users the ability to look through the plane of the galaxy and zero in on a variety of objects, including nebulae, bubbles, jets, bow shocks, the center of the galaxy and other exotic phenomena. The image is being shown for the first time this morning on a large visualization wall installed by Microsoft at the TED conference.

The survey conducted by the Wisconsin group has also helped astronomers understand the distribution of the Milky Way's stellar nurseries, regions where massive stars and proto-stars are churned out.

"We can see every star-forming region in the plane of the galaxy," says Robert Benjamin, a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and a member of the GLIMPSE team.

"This gives us some idea of the metabolic rate of our galaxy," explains Whitney. "It tells us how many stars are forming each year."

Churchwell notes, too, that while Spitzer is helping astronomers resolve some of the mysteries of the Milky Way, it is adding new cosmological puzzles for scientists to ponder. For example, the infrared data gathered by the GLIMPSE team has revealed that interstellar space is filled with diffuse polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon gas.

"These are hydrocarbons — very complicated, very heavy molecules with fifty or more carbon atoms," Churchwell says. "They are brightest around regions of star formation but detectable throughout the disk of the Milky Way. They're floating out in the middle of interstellar space where they have no business being. It raises the question of how they were formed. It also tells us carbon may be more abundant than we thought."

The new GLIMPSE composite image will be made widely available to astronomers and planetaria. The data is also the basis for a "citizen science" project, known as the Milky Way Project, where anyone can help scour GLIMPSE images to help identify and map the objects that populate our galaxy.

The data from the survey, Churchwell argues, will keep astronomers busy for many years: "It's still up there. It's still taking data. It's done what we wanted it to do, which is to provide a legacy of data for the astronomical community."

###

—Terry Devitt, 608-262-8282, trdevitt@wisc.edu

Edward Churchwell | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.wisc.edu

Further reports about: GLIMPSE addition astronomy contents exotic explains interstellar structure

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Basque researchers turn light upside down
23.02.2018 | Elhuyar Fundazioa

nachricht Attoseconds break into atomic interior
23.02.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Attoseconds break into atomic interior

A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.

In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...

Im Focus: Good vibrations feel the force

A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.

By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Basque researchers turn light upside down

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Finnish research group discovers a new immune system regulator

23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Attoseconds break into atomic interior

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>