In creating a zoomable, 360-degree portrait of the Milk Way galaxy, University of Wisconsin scientists have offered new insight into the structure and contents of the spiral star system.
To create the holistic portrait, Wisconsin astronomers pieced together 2 million cosmic images collected by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. The team unveiled their impressive galactic collage today at a TED conference in Vancouver.
"For the first time, we can actually measure the large-scale structure of the galaxy using stars rather than gas," astronomer Edward Churchwell said.
"We’ve established beyond the shadow of a doubt that our galaxy has a large bar structure that extends halfway out to the sun’s orbit," he added. "We know more about where the Milky Way’s spiral arms are."
Churchwell, a professor of astronomy at Wisconsin, is part of the group of researchers that stitched together the infrared imagery. The project, dubbed GLIMPSE360, was headed up by UW-Madison astronomer Barb Whitney.
Whitney says the new image will help astronomers see where the galaxies new stars are coming from and how the system operates as a whole.
"This gives us some idea of the metabolic rate of our galaxy," Whitney explained. “It tells us how many stars are forming each year."
The new image will be widely distributed to astronomers and research institutions.
[University of Wisconsin]