Chandra X-ray and MeerKAT radio image of a 1000 by 2000 lightyear region around the center of the Milky Way
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/UMass/Q.D. Wang; Radio: NRF/SARAO/MeerKAT

Threading the Center

Earth is very far from the center of our Galaxy. That's a good thing. The center of the Milky Way is a dangerous place, packed with deadly massive stars (ticking time bombs which produce dangerous, high intensity UV radiation before exploding) along with lots of X-ray emitting neutron stars, and tons of black holes too (including, of course, Sgr A*, a four million solar mass monster at the Galaxy's dead center). But viewed safely from afar, these extreme objects make the center of the Galaxy a wondrously exciting place. Now a new study of the center of the Milky Way using radio and X-ray images provides the best view so far of the strange space near the center of the Galaxy. The image above shows a full-color high-resolution Chandra X-ray Observatory X-ray image of the a 1000 by 2000 lightyear region around the center the Milky Way. The X-ray image is colored orange, green, blue, purple, representing increasingly higher X-ray energies (and increasingly more extreme phenomena). The X-ray emission comes from stars and other individual sources, and also from large diffuse clouds of superheated, ionized gas. The composite image also shows a radio image by South Africa's MeerKAT radio telescope array, in white and gray. The radio image traces out long thin lines of gas which follow the magnetic fields threading through the inner part of the Galaxy, similar to the way the magnetic field of a child's magnet can be traced out using iron filings, or similar to the way hot gas traces out loops of magnetic field on the Sun. Scientists suspect that the release of energy stored in this Galactic magnetic field may play an important role in heating the center of the Milky Way, and perhaps driving cosmic rays.
Published: June 7, 2021

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Each week the HEASARC brings you new, exciting and beautiful images from X-ray and Gamma ray astronomy. Check back each week and be sure to check out the HEAPOW archive!
Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Monday, 14-Jun-2021 11:55:14 EDT