Researchers have recently constructed a 360-degree visualization of the Milky Way to give us a sense of what it looks like at the center of our galaxy.
The Center of Our Galaxy
With Earth sitting 26000 light-years away from the center of our galaxy, the chances of any of us getting over there to get a close look are staggeringly small. In order to give scientists and the public alike a closer look at the center of our galaxy, a team has created a visualization of the Milky Way.
The visualization of the Milky Way doesn’t paint a pretty picture of what exactly it looks like over there. While it’s visually stunning, it’s filled with volatile massive stars and a huge black hole that sucks everything towards it. These massive stars are responsible for intense winds of gas, and these winds carry stellar material out into the rest of the galaxy’s space.
These same stellar gas winds occasionally collide with each other and make shock waves that could be compared to sonic booms. While there’s no sound due to the vacuum in space, it creates heat that can reach millions of degrees – causing the windows to get hot enough to glow.
The visualization of the Milky Way gives us a sense of what exactly the area looks like by looking at these glowing winds. The glow gets picked up by the Chandra X-ray telescope that is expanding on infrared observations of the center of our galaxy collected by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope. These gases have allowed us to map out distant locations – including the recent visualization of the Milky Way.
Milky Way Visualization Video
The video below shows two simulations, both of which span 500 years – starting around 350 years in the past. Both simulations are also run from the vantage of Sagitarrius A*, a radio source that scientists believe is the center of the galaxy’s supermassive black hole. In the visualization of the Milky Way, viewers can see about 25 massive stellar giants. These bodies are known as Wolf-Rayet stars, and are losing mass from the high winds mentioned above as they continue to orbit the center of our galaxy.
Each visualization of the Milky Way looks at the same area, but one shows a calm state while the other gives us a sense of what the area might look like during a more active and violent period where Sagittarius A* is expelling its own material.
You can now take a look at the visualization of the Milky Way yourself and see what the researchers refer to as a “hotbed of astrophysical activity” in their paper that describes the work. Either don a paper of Virtual Reality Goggles or scroll through YouTube to get a sense of what the center of our galaxy really looks like.
While it’s not realistic to expect we’ll be making a manned trip to the center of our galaxy at any point in the near future, we can use real-world data from these glowing winds to paint a pretty accurate picture that is the next best thing. As space enthusiasts, it’s likely the top option for viewing the volatile landscape of the Milky Way – and it’s certainly a breathtaking view.