The APEX telescope working in conjunction with the Max Planck satellite has created a beautiful portrait of the galaxy by studying interstellar dust and gas called the ATLASGAL survey.
About the Apex telescope
Located at about 5,100 meters in the Atacama desert of Chile, the APEX telescope has effectively imaged all that its capable of seeing. At its heart, the APEX (Atacama Pathefineder Experiment) has a 12m (diameter) telescope that has been in operation on the Chanjnantor Plateau for a decade. Additionally, APEX is equipped with 295 sensors that are kept near absolute zero making it a highly sensitive thermometer.
Using the APEX, today saw the release of ATLASGAL’s (Apex Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy) latest survey, which is the most precise map of the Milky Way ever released. It covers an area 140 degrees long and three degrees wide and has already prompted scientists to write of 70 scientific papers with more on the way.
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This release is about three times larger than the first ATLASGAL map and also more detailed as certain areas were re-observed to provide more uniform data which could be applied over the whole of the newest map.
“ATLASSGAL has allowed us to have a new and transformational look at the dense interstellar medium of our own galaxy, the Milky Way,” said Leonardo Testi from the European Southern Observatory.
“The new release of the full survey opens up the possibility to mine this marvelous data set for new discoveries. Many teams of scientists are already using the Atlasgal data to plan for detailed Alma follow-up.”
APEX and past observations combined equal ATLASGAL
In the above picture, the Apex data captured at a wavelength of 0.87 millimeters is responsible for the red you see “painted” into this image. The blue “canvas” comes from using shorter infrared wavelengths and was done with the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope as part of the GLIMPSE survey. The pinks and fainter reds were provided by observations from the European Space Agency‘s Planck Satellite.
Using the all three instruments complimentary has provided this exceptional image of the Milky Way.
“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,” remarks Timea Csengeri from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy who led the work of combining the APEX and Planck data.
In the 10 years that the ESO (European Southern Observatory) has been operating the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment telescope, it has been responsible for a number of observations that wouldn’t had been possible had it not been operating as such an altitude and such a dry area of the planet. The faint signals from space received here are less absorbed by water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere making its submillimeter astronomy more insightful.
APEX shares the Chajnantor plateau with ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) which is also operated by ESO.
As stated earlier, observations made by APEX and the complimentary images that make up ATLASGAL, have already been shared with those at the ALMA station and have pinpointed a number of areas in space where ALMA will begin surveying.
The 21st Century is truly a lovely time to live for novice and professional astronomers and space junkies alike.