Spitzer  image of the Galactic Center and Chandra resolving the Galactic Ridge
Credit: X-ray (NASA/CXC/TUM/M.Revnivtsev et al.); IR (NASA/JPL-Caltech/GLIMPSE Team)

Resolving the Ridge

The Milky Way glows in X-rays. The origin of this apparently diffuse emission has puzzled astronomers since nearly the dawn of X-ray astronomy. The glow could be due to hot gas, but if so it either means the Milky Way is far more massive or has far more supernova than believed. A few years ago, astronomers using the Chandra X-ray Observatory found evidence which supported the idea that this diffuse emission was produced by the interaction of high-energy cosmic rays with cold molecular clouds near the disk of the galaxy. Now an extremely deep observation (more than, also by Chandra, has caused astronomers to re-think the origin of this eerie glow. The image above shows an infrared image of the Galactic Center by the Spitzer Space Telescope; the inset shows a 12-day long observation of a small section of the Galactic Center by Chandra. This X-ray image has resolved this portion of the Galactic Ridge into an unbelievably large number of point sources. What could these point sources be? Probably a previously unseen population of white dwarfs, accreting matter from normal companion stars.
Published: May 11, 2009

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Friday, 20-Apr-2012 15:25:29 EDT