Magnificent Image of Milky Way’s Core Reveals New Space Insights

·3 min read

Space often gives us visuals to rival the best movie scenes we can dream up. And a new radio image from the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) does not disappoint. But this space visualization, taken with the MeerKAT telescope, isn’t just an awe-inspiring image. It has important scientific implications. Along with giving us a perspective we haven’t yet seen of our galaxy, this new radio image of the Milky Way offers unique insight into mysterious galactic phenomena.

Meerkat Radio Space Image of the center of the Milky Way
I. Heywood, SARAO.

The team responsible for the work will publish the science highlights in The Astrophysical Journal. But for now, SARAO has shared a release summarizing their findings.

The release offers general insights into these new scientific discoveries. Including a description of what exactly we can see in the image:

The new MeerKAT image of the Galactic centre region is shown with the Galactic plane running horizontally across the image. Many new and previously-known radio features are evident, including supernova remnants, compact star-forming regions, and the large population of mysterious radio filaments. The broad feature running vertically through the image is the inner part of the (previously discovered) radio bubbles, spanning 1400 light-years across the centre of the Galaxy. Colours indicate bright radio emission, while fainter emission is shown in greyscale.

The scientists add that the image captures the supermassive black hole at the center of our universe. An area of our galaxy that we still do not fully understand. And that doesn’t feel very surprising. This area of space lives 25,000 light-years away, after all. But new images such as this one help shed needed light.

MeerKAT Radio Space image of a bubble at the center of the Milky Way
I. Heywood, SARAO.

The release further notes:

MeerKAT’s innovative design, sensitivity, and geographical vantage point have been the keys to producing the remarkable image, which reveals new supernova remnants – the expanding shells of material left behind when massive stars end their lives explosively – including a rare almost-perfect spherical example, and provides astronomers with the best insight yet into the population of mysterious ‘radio filaments’ found nowhere else.

MeerKAT Radio Space image of a bubble at the center of the Milky Way with two streaking objects
I. Heywood, SARAO.

The image also shows numerous compact radio sources that signal supermassive black holes of other galaxies far away. Additionally, a tailed radio source is visible, signifying an object moving at high speed. Finally, we see radio-emitting magnetized threads. “Up to 100 light-years long, these unique structures have defied a conclusive explanation for their origin since discovery over 35 years ago. MeerKAT has discovered many more such filaments than were previously known, and the new data release will allow astronomers to study these objects as a population for the first time.”

Affectionately, the scientists call the feature on the left, the mouse. And the one on the right, the snake. We can see it, honestly. Though we wouldn’t want to meet a giant radio wave mouse in space or anywhere else. Much less a snake.

That’s a lot of insight from one magnificent Milky Way image. But we still have to say, it really just looks cool. We need more new space images, stat. Both for science and our pure enjoyment. Bloody Milky Way feels like our next aesthetic obsession. And we definitely need this “Heart of the Milky Way” image on our wall right away.

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