Step into the center of the galaxy with NASA’s 360-degree visualization

Have you ever wanted to take a supermassive black hole’s view of the galaxy? Then you’re in luck. Researchers at NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have released a stunning, immersive video that let you view the Milky Way as if you were sitting right in the center of the galaxy.

If you view the video on YouTube, you can see 360 degrees of beautiful galactic activity created from a combination of supercomputer simulations and data from Chandra. If you have a high-definition display, then fire it up, as the visualization is available in Ultra HD — up to 8K definition. Or if you’re on a smartphone, move the phone around to see different areas of the movie. And if you have a VR headset, then you’re in for a treat, as you can explore the visualizations in virtual reality.

At the center of the galaxy sits a supermassive black hole creating enormous gravitational forces, and around which matter in the Milky Way rotates. The visualization shows the stellar giants which live nearby, in a region called Sagittarius A* located a few light-years away. These stellar giants create powerful winds which have a key role in star formation. They also push material like dust and gas toward the supermassive black hole, feeding it a steady supply of matter.

When winds from the massive stars in this region collide, they form clumps of material which fall back toward Sagittarius A* along with low-density gases. The gases emit X-rays, which the Chandra telescope can detect in order to work out how matter is moving in this distant and very active location. Gases start off moving slowly toward Sagittarius A*, then pick up speed as they move closer to the galactic center. Flashes of X-rays are given off when clumps of gas collide, causing the gas to rapidly heat before cooling again.

The visualization show the processes in this busy region in action: The blues and cyans represent X-ray emissions from hot gas, which reaches a blistering temperature of tens of millions of degrees, the red shows ultraviolet emissions which are given off by relatively cooler gas with temperatures in the range of tens of thousands of degrees, and the yellow shows the areas of cooler gas which has the highest densities.

The visualization was first presented by Dr. Christopher Russell of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Pontifical Catholic University) at the 17th meeting of the High-Energy Astrophysics (HEAD) of the American Astronomical Society.


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