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Proof the Milky Way Is the Greatest Light Show Ever

The APEX Telescope’s giant new image shows the Milky Way as you've never seen it before.
February 24, 2016, 7:15pm
ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck

Plenty of images exist of our galactic home, the Milky Way galaxy, but none quite like an image captured by the APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy (ATLASGAL). Located in Chile, the APEX telescope mapped the full area of the Galactic Plane (the disk where the majority of the galaxy's mass lies), visible from the southern hemisphere, for the first time at submillimeter wavelengths. These are wavelengths that lie between infrared light and radio waves, giving the resulting image a “finer detail” than other recent space-based surveys, according to the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

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“The APEX data, at a wavelength of 0.87 millimeters, shows up in red and the background blue image was imaged at shorter infrared wavelengths by the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope as part of the GLIMPSE survey,” ESO explains. “The fainter extended red structures come from complementary observations made by ESA's Planck satellite.”

Screencap by the author

With the APEX telescope, located over 16,000 feet above sea level on Chajnantor Plateau in Chile’s Atacama region, the ATLASGAL survey created a detailed image of the “distribution of cold dense gas along the plane of the Milky Way, which includes most of the regions of star formation in the galaxy.

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“ATLASGAL provides exciting insights into where the next generation of high-mass stars and clusters form. By combining these with observations from Planck, we can now obtain a link to the large-scale structures of giant molecular clouds,” says Timea Csengeri from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR), Bonn, Germany, who led the effort of combining APEX telescope and Planck satellite data.

“ATLASGAL has allowed us to have a new and transformational look at the dense interstellar medium of our own galaxy, the Milky Way," says Leonardo Testi of ESO, and member of the ATLASGAL team and the European Project Scientist for the ALMA project. “The new release of the full survey opens up the possibility to mine this marvelous dataset for new discoveries. Many teams of scientists are already using the ATLASGAL data to plan for detailed ALMA follow-up.”

Click here to see the zoomable version of the Milky Way image.

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