A NASA photo captures the center of the Milky Way galaxy in infrared light.
The image shows the galactic center in unprecedented detail, but NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will produce even better photos.
JWST’s powerful infrared cameras might even capture the disk of hot matter swirling around the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s center.
Future images of the galaxy’s center could help scientists answer questions about how the Milky Way formed and how it evolves over time.
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The center of the Milky Way is a crowded hub of millions of stars, bathed in harsh ultraviolet and X-ray radiation, swirling around a black hole as massive as 4 million suns.
A shroud of dust and gas makes it difficult to see all that activity, but NASA’s Spitzer telescope cut through the fog with infrared sensors in 2006, producing an unprecedented image. The agency republished that photo (shown above) on Wednesday in order to highlight how much more we’ll be able to see with its next venture.
That project, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is slated to launch in 2021. It will use more advanced infrared cameras to image the galaxy while in Earth’s orbit, and will be able to capture dimmer stars and smaller details than Spitzer.
“Even one image from Webb will be the highest-quality image ever obtained of the galactic center,” Roeland van der Marel, an astronomer who worked on JWST’s imaging tools, said in a press release.
Such images could help answer some of scientists’ biggest questions about how the galaxy formed and how it evolves over time.
Spitzer imaged the Milky Way’s center like never before
The Spitzer photo is a mosaic of smaller shots showing the galactic center in infrared light, with wavelengths 10 times longer than what the human eye can see. Infrared vision enabled Spitzer’s cameras to see past the clouds of interstellar dust that block visible light between Earth and the center of the galaxy, 26,000 light-years away.
In the image, old, cooler stars appear in blue at the edges, while massive, young stars burn a hot red hue. Stars on the far sides of the image are 900 light-years apart.
The horizontal streak of brighter stars across the center of the image is the plane of the Milky Way. The galaxy’s center is the bright white spot in the middle of the photo — that’s …read more
Source:: Business Insider