An extremely deep Chandra X-ray Observatory image of a region near the center of our Galaxy has resolved a long-standing mystery about an X-ray glow along the plane of the Galaxy. The glow in the region covered by the Chandra image was discovered to be caused by hundreds of point-like X- ray sources, implying that the glow along the plane of the Galaxy is due to millions of such sources.
This image shows an infrared view from the Spitzer Space Telescope of the central region of the Milky Way, with a pullout showing a Chandra image of a region located only 1.4 degrees away from the center of the Galaxy.
The so-called Galactic ridge X-ray emission was first detected more than two decades ago using early X-ray observatories such as HEAO-1 and Exosat. The ridge was observed to extend about two degrees above and below the plane of the Galaxy and about 40 degrees along the plane of the galaxy on either side of the galactic center. It appeared to be diffuse.
A very deep Chandra observation, lasting for about 12 days, was used to study the nature of this ridge emission. The field was chosen to be close enough to the Galactic plane so that the ridge emission was strong, but in a region with relatively little absorption from dust and gas to maximize the number of sources that might be detected. A total of 473 sources were detected in an area on the sky only about 3% of the size of the full Moon, one of the highest densities of X-ray sources ever seen in our Galaxy.
-Kimberly Arcand, CXC