If you’re far enough away from city lights at night, you can see the Milky Way hanging in the sky above you. The wisps of gas stand out from the countless stars around it. In the exceptionally clear skies of Chile, a short exposure of the center of the Milky Way looks like this.
Yesterday, NASA gave us another look at our galaxy’s center. With the gas stripped away, the core of the Milky Way is exposed in all its glory.
The hundreds of thousands of stars densely packed at the center surround a supermassive black hole.
Peering through the gas
When you look up into the night’s sky, you are looking at the Milky Way edge on. Because we are looking towards the center from the inside, gas between us and the middle obscure our view. But astronomers can use a specific type of wavelength to see through this gas – infrared.
Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope’s infrared vision, astronomers reveal a core with millions of stars.
The only stars that aren’t part of the core in the picture above are the blue ones. Every other star surrounds a black hole that is 4 million times the mass of our sun.
Plus, there are stars that even the Hubble can’t see. Some are too faint while even thicker clouds of dust shroud others. That Hubble image shows an area of space about 50 light-years across. Astronomers believe there are 10 million more stars in this cluster that are too faint for the telescope to see.
Do you want to learn more about the center of our galaxy? Here’s a Google Hangout where several scientists discuss the images captured by the Hubble.