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Recent Podcast
A Quick Look at RW Aur A
A Quick Look at RW Aur A
Chandra data indicates that a young star has likely destroyed and consumed an infant planet. (2018-07-18)


A 360-Degree Tour of the Galactic Center

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Narrator (April Hobart, CXC): The Earth is located about 26,000 light years, or about 200,000 trillion miles, from the center of the Galaxy. While humans cannot physically travel there, scientists have been able to study this region by using data from powerful telescopes that can detect light in a variety of forms, including X-ray and infrared light.

A new visualization provides an exceptional virtual trip – complete with a 360-degree view – to the center of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. This project, made using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, allows viewers to control their own exploration of the fascinating environment of volatile massive stars and powerful gravity around the monster black hole that lies in the center of the Milky Way.

This visualization builds on infrared data with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope of 30 massive stellar giants called Wolf-Rayet stars that orbit within about 1.5 light years of the center of our Galaxy. Powerful winds of gas streaming from the surface of these stars are carrying some of their outer layers into interstellar space.

When the outflowing gas collides with previously ejected gas from other stars, the collisions produce shock waves, similar to sonic booms, which permeate the area. These shock waves heat the gas to millions of degrees, which causes it to glow in X-rays. Extensive observations with Chandra of the central regions of the Milky Way have provided critical data about the temperature and distribution of this multimillion-degree gas.

Astronomers are interested in better understanding what role these Wolf-Rayet stars play in the cosmic neighborhood at the Milky Way’s center. Scientists have also used this visualization to examine the effects Sgr A* -- the Milky Way's supermassive black hole -- has on its stellar neighbors. And, by creating this new visualization, they have also allowed anyone who is interested to virtually explore the center of the Milky Way like never before.

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