Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2000 June 29

Galactic Centre Starscape
Credit: ESA/ ISO, CAM, S. Ganesh (PRL, IAP), A. Omont (IAP), ISOGAL Team

Explanation: Thirty thousand light-years distant, beyond the majestic dust clouds of the constellation Sagittarius, lies the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy. Hidden from optical view by the dust, the Galactic Centre region is a relatively unexplored starscape. But infrared light can more easily penetrate the dust and this recently released Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) mosaic, together with other similar images, shows about 100,000 previously unseen stars of the Milky Way's central regions. Huge obscuring dust clouds still seem to crowd the area especially in the left part of the infrared picture. Marked by the white circle, the centre itself is missing from the mosaic because it is so bright that it would saturate ISO's sensitive camera. The stars are mostly evolved red giants, intrinsically cool, large, bright stars that have swollen after exhausting their central supply of hydrogen fuel. The detailed properties of the red giant stars can be very revealing as these stars contribute to the interstellar gas and dust clouds, enriching their galactic environment with carbon and other elements. Their motions also trace the mass distribution in the Galactic Centre and may support the idea that our Galaxy grew by swallowing smaller, nearby galaxies.

Tomorrow's picture: Gamma-ray Wine

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
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& Michigan Tech. U.