NASA's SOFIA Telescope Offers a Breathtaking Look at the Milky Way's Galactic Core Spanning Over 600 Light-Years
NASA has just released truly stunning panoramic view of the Milky Way galaxy using the infrared camera on its airborne telescope, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) to capture the image, which spans a distance of more than 600 light years. For reference, please recall that a light year is the distance that light can travel in a year: roughly six trillion miles.
This image, then, represents a swath of space stretching 3.5272 x 1015 miles, which in terms of human comprehension, is basically an abstraction, especially given that NASA estimates that there are at least two trillion galaxies in what we call the universe and what you're looking at, both here and in the night sky, is just part of one of them.
Credits: NASA/SOFIA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/Herschel (click image for full-size)
Feeling small yet? Good.
The cool thing about the instrument used – the Faint Object Infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST) – is that it can pick up wavelengths of light undetectable by other telescopes, allowing for deeper and richer imaging (and analysis). In a press release from NASA, the agency points out some of the image's highlights:
"Among the features coming into focus are the jutting curves of the Arches Cluster containing the densest concentration of stars in our galaxy, as well as the Quintuplet Cluster with stars a million times brighter than our Sun. Our galaxy's black hole takes shape with a glimpse of the fiery-looking ring of gas surrounding it."
"It's incredible to see our galactic center in detail we've never seen before," said James Radomski, a scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center's SOFIA Science Center. "Studying this area has been like trying to assemble a puzzle with missing pieces. The SOFIA data fills in some of the holes, putting us significantly closer to having a complete picture."