The Milky Way Galaxy is a big place. It’s close to 100,000 lightyears across another 1,000 lightyears thick. It’s home to around 300 billion stars, including our Sun, which revolve lazily around the galactic core once every 220 million years. If the galaxy were shrunk to 100 miles in diameter, the Solar System would only be 1/10 of an inch big.
Given the scales involved, mapping the Milky Way can be an arduous, complex, and frustrating undertaking. But NASA, using infrared technology, has developed the highest-resolution image mosaic of the Milky Way ever developed, and a cool viewer to help explore it. The image above is from the GLIMPSE viewer, sponsored by NASA and other space organizations, to view the infrared-spectrum mosaic at its highest resolution. Click here or on the picture above to go to the viewer.
The mosaic was developed using images taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope. NASA used infrared imagery, rather than the visible spectrum, because infrared images can see deep into the galaxy in much greater detail. This mosaic is still being explored and analyzed, but it has already revealed previously hidden galactic objects and gorgeous images of faraway regions of space.
NASA highlighted the images with artificial colors to represent the infrared spectrum. For example, red areas indicate a strong presence of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), which light up under ultraviolet radiation. As such, brighter red areas in the image represent the birth of recent high-mass stars, which emit the ultraviolet radiation that makes the PAHs glow. Ionized and shocked gasses in the image show up as green. These colors indicate additional high-mass star formation, but also supernovae.
The GLIMPSE program provides a beautiful view of a complex galactic picture. Take the time to explore the image and look at some of the recommended features already toggled on the image. [via Slashdot]