Image: Our galaxy’s heart

ImageOur galaxy’s heart
Credit: SO/ATLASGAL consortium; ESA/Planck

At first glance, this image may resemble red ink filtering
through water or a crackling stream of electricity, but it is
actually a unique view of our cosmic home. It reveals the
central plane of the Milky Way as seen by ESA’s Planck
satellite and the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX), which
is located at an altitude of around 5100m in the Chilean
Andes and operated by the European Southern Observatory.


This image was released in 2016 as the final product of an APEX
survey mapping the galactic plane visible from the southern
hemisphere at submillimetre wavelengths (between infrared and
radio on the electromagnetic spectrum). It complements previous
data from ESA’s Planck and Herschel space observatories.

Planck and APEX are an ideal pairing. APEX is best at viewing
small patches of sky in great detail while Planck data is ideal
for studying areas of sky at the largest scales. It covers the
entire sky – no mean feat. The two work together well, and
offer a unique perspective on the sky.

This image reveals numerous objects within our galaxy. The
bright pockets scattered along the Milky Way’s plane in this
view are compact sources of submillimetre radiation: very cold,
clumpy, dusty regions that may shed light on myriad topics all
the way from how individual stars form to how the entire
Universe is structured.

From right to left, notable sources include NGC 6334 (the
rightmost bright patch), NGC 6357 (just to the left of NGC
6334), the galactic core itself (the central, most extended,
and brightest patch in this image), M8 (the bright lane
branching from the plane to the bottom left), and M20 (visible
to the upper left of M8).

Planck was launched on 14 May 2009 and concluded its mission in
October 2013. The telescope returned a wealth of information
about the cosmos; its main aim was to study the Cosmic
Microwave Background (CMB), the relic radiation from the Big
Bang. Among other milestones, Planck produced an all-sky map of
the CMB at incredible sensitivity and precision, and took the
‘magnetic fingerprint’ of the Milky Way by exploring the
behaviour of certain light emitted by dust within our galaxy.

Its observations are helping scientists to explore and
understand how the Universe formed, its composition and
contents, and how it has evolved from its birth to present day.

Explore further:

Image: Star-forming filaments

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