Below is the best three-dimensional map of the Milky Way’s center ever created. It was put together using data from the European Space Observatory’s (ESO) VISTA telescope.
The center region, known as the galactic bulge, consists of a massive cloud containing 10,000 million stars and an inner-region that has the shape of a peanut from a side-view, researchers point out.
In the center, it’s generally believed that most galactic bulges contain a supermassive black hole, but black holes can’t be observed directly.
It’s been hard for astronomers to get a good look at the Milky Way’s central bulge, because it’s blocked from view by lots of heavy gas and dust clouds. But the new observations looked beyond the visible light colours to those in the near-infrared spectrum, which are easier to see over galactic distances.
In this study, scientists were able to identify stars 30 times fainter than previous surveys of the central bulge. The locations of 22 million stars were added to the star catalogue. This data gives a flat view of the galaxy, because it’s difficult to tell how far those stars are from the Earth — a big star further way would look similar to a small star closer to Earth.
To get an idea of the stars’ 3-D locations, this was added to data collected from comparing images from the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope of the galaxy 11 years ago to ones from today. The teeny-tiny changes in 400 stars gave astronomers an idea of the direction of movement in different regions of the galactic bulge.
With both of these data sets, researchers were able to make the most accurate 3D map yet of the bulge’s shape. The three dimensional location in the map resulted in this fabulous artists impression:
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