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 Electrocatalysis can advance green transition
23.01.2017 | Technical University of Denmark

nachricht Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin
23.01.2017 | Ferdinand-Braun-Institut Leibniz-Institut für Höchstfrequenztechnik

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: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Tracking movement of immune cells identifies key first steps in inflammatory arthritis

23.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

Electrocatalysis can advance green transition

23.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New technology for mass-production of complex molded composite components

23.01.2017 | Process Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>