This stunning image shows the heart of the Milky Way, a chaotic region of threads of gas captured in both the X-ray and radio wavelengths. The image is a mosaic of different images taken by NASA’s Chanda X-ray Observatory, and it shows the intricate structures that gas forms at the center of our galaxy.
The galactic center is the region around the supermassive black hole in the middle of the Milky Way, called Sagittarius A*. The black hole is part of the purple-white blob in the center of the image — you can’t actually see the black hole itself, but you can see the hot dust around it. Thanks to Chandra looking in the X-ray wavelengths, the image shows a high-energy view of the region, with X-rays of different energies observed by Chandra shown in orange, green, blue, and purple, and radio data from the MeerKAT radio telescope shown in lilac and gray.
The threads of gas form these complex structures due to their interactions with magnetic fields. We see a similar effect here on Earth when the sun gives off charged particles that travel through the solar system and interact with Earth’s atmosphere as space weather. But in the galactic center, it isn’t just a single sun that is driving the space weather — it is driven by multiple stars and by much more dramatic phenomena such as supernova explosions.
As well as the threads, the image also shows galactic plumes, in which huge structures of hot gas are being expelled from the region and extend around 700 light-years above and below the plane of the galaxy. “The gas is likely heated by supernova explosions and many recent magnetic reconnections occurring near the center of the galaxy,” NASA writes. “Such reconnection events in the Galaxy are normally not sufficiently energetic to be detected in X-rays, except for the most energetic ones at the center of the Galaxy, where the interstellar magnetic field is much stronger.”
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