The Milky Way is a beauty to behold, with a hundred billion stars streaming in an arch across the night sky. But our eyesight has been limited to what’s visible — until now.
A team of astronomers have just given us a new glimpse of the sky through the Murchison Widefield Array, a $50 million radio telescope in the West Australian outback. They used the array to create the Galactic and Extragalactic All-Sky MWA (GLEAM) survey, which captured the Milky Way and roughly 300,000 other galaxies in one stunning Technicolor image.
“The area surveyed is enormous,” MWA director Dr. Randall Wayth said in a press release. “Large sky surveys like this are extremely valuable to scientists, and they’re used across many areas of astrophysics, often in ways the original researchers could never have imagined.”
Images of the night sky have previously been captured in radio wavelengths but, according to lead author Dr. Natasha Hurley-Walker, never like this.
“The human eye sees by comparing brightness in three different primary colors – red, green, and blue,” she said. “GLEAM does rather better than that, viewing the sky in each of 20 primary colors. That’s much better than we humans can manage, and it even beats the very best in the animal kingdom, the mantis shrimp, which can see 12 different primary colors.”
GLEAM surveys the radio wavelengths of the sky at frequencies from 70-230 MHz. In the radio image, red, green, and blue respectively represent the lowest, middle, and highest frequencies captured.
The image isn’t just a pretty sight — it also has scientific value. Hurley-Walker and her team use such measurements to study the affects of galactic collisions and indirectly observe supermassive black holes.