It turns out the heart of the Milky Way Galaxy is a pretty chaotic, disorderly place.
Thanks to an unprecedented image released by the European Space Agency last week, astronomers can now see the area like never before. The picture above is a compilation of photos collected by the agency’s x-ray satellite XMM-Newton, and spans 1,000 light years. While it might appear to be a bunch of colourful space dust and stars, we can help break it down for you:
- The brightest spots in the image are of stars meeting their explosive demise, as they morph into massive supernovas
- Most of the red and white specks are of young, emerging stars and stellar clusters
- The blueish area near the centre depicts clouds of gas being blown around by the forces of stars dying and being born
The most interesting part of the image? That would have to be the presence of a “supermassive blackhole” right in the centre of our galaxy–right within that same cloud of gas. You can call that bad boy Sagittarius A*. It’s so gigantic, that it has a mass a few million times that of our Sun.
Don’t worry though, astronomers aren’t worried about ol’ Sag A* wiping us out anytime soon. They do, however, blame it for some of the chaotic activity going on in the core.
We know what you’re wondering: Shouldn’t the black hole look, well, black? While black holes don’t emit light themselves, they can suck it in from other sources, which ends up emitting many wavelengths that appear clearly in X-rays.
This new image is helping astronomers understand some of the black hole’s ancient activity, as well as expand their understanding of how the Milky Way was formed.