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Astronomers spot a cosmic ‘candy cane’ in the center of the Milky Way

An image from GISMO shows a candy cane-like shape at the central zone of the Milky Way.
The central zone of our galaxy hosts the Milky Way’s largest, densest collection of giant molecular clouds, the raw material for making tens of millions of stars. This image combines archival infrared (blue), radio (red) and new microwave observations (green) from the Goddard-developed GISMO instrument. The composite image reveals emission from cold dust, areas of vigorous star formation, and filaments formed at the edges of a bubble blown by some powerful event at the galaxy’s center. NASA Goddard's Space Flight Center

It seems that the Milky Way is hanging up its Christmas decorations, as a new image of our galaxy’s central zone reveals a structure that looks rather like a candy cane. Data for the image was captured by an instrument called the Goddard-IRAM Superconducting 2-Millimeter Observer, or GISMO, which was combined with observations of different wavelengths to create the complete picture.

Scientists wanted to investigate the central region of our galaxy where large, dense collections of cool clouds can be found. The clouds of dust and gas contain the building blocks of stars like our sun.

“The galactic center is an enigmatic region with extreme conditions where velocities are higher and objects frequently collide with each other,” GISMO lead researcher Johannes Staguhn said in a statement. “GISMO gives us the opportunity to observe microwaves with a wavelength of 2 millimeters at a large scale, combined with an angular resolution that perfectly matches the size of galactic center features we are interested in. Such detailed, large-scale observations have never been done before.”

In order to create the finished image, the team started with the data from GISMO which is shown in green. Next, they used data from the European Space Agency’s Herschel satellite to see the glow of cold dust which they subtracted from the GISMO data. Then they added infrared data from the SCUBA-2 instrument on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, shown in blue. Finally, longer-wavelength radio data from the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array were added in red.

In combination, these different sources of data were able to reveal more information about the busy heart of our galaxy. “We’re very intrigued by the beauty of this image; it’s exotic,” Staguhn said. “When you look at it, you feel like you’re looking at some really special forces of nature in the universe.”

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