Another Milky Way survey is in the books. And with it, a new image to feast your eyes on. What you’re about to see is many of the regions of star formation in the southern Milky Way (southern hemisphere).

APEX survey of the milky way

Want a closer look? Check out the epic, zoomable 187 million pixel image.

So, what exactly are we looking at here? The Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment telescope, or APEX, mapped an area of the southern hemisphere sky 140 degrees long and 3 degrees wide as part of the APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy (ATLASGAL).

The Milky Way bursts with color in submillimeter wavelengths (the wavelengths between infrared light and radio waves). It looks stunning, but there’s also some science going on here. This map gives astronomers a look at the cold, dense clouds of gas and dust. It’s in these areas where new stars form.

“ATLASGAL provides exciting insights into where the next generation of high-mass stars and clusters form. By combining these with observations from Planck, we can now obtain a link to the large-scale structures of giant molecular clouds,” says Timea Csengeri from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy.

One instrument on APEX was vital. It’s called LABOCA (LArge BOlometer Camera) and can register minuscule rises in temperature on the detector from incoming light. It can also detect the cold dust making up the bulk of the image above.

Let’s take another look at a section of the ATLASGAL map.

Galactic center and plane

The galactic center shines brightly against the other objects. NGC 6357 (Lobster Nebula) and NGC 6334 (Cat’s Paw Nebula) sit to the right of the galactic center. Here’s a close up of the Lobster Nebula.

Lobster nebula

And Cat’s Paw Nebula.

Cat's paw nebula

The new survey map could be a goldmine for researchers. ATLASGAL survey has already been used to publish nearly 70 papers.

ESO’s Leonardo Testi reinforces this. “ATLASGAL has allowed us to have a new and transformational look at the dense interstellar medium of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. The new release of the full survey opens up the possibility to mine this marvellous dataset for new discoveries. Many teams of scientists are already using the ATLASGAL data to plan for detailed ALMA follow-up.”