Not so long ago, the data obtained using the SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) flying astronomical observatory were used to compose a picture of the central region of our galaxy, which has a level of detail unprecedented today. The resulting image covers an area of 600 light-years, and despite the fact that the center of the galaxy is a fairly well-studied region, the new photograph taken in infrared light shows us some of the features that people see literally for the first time.
In the central part of the image, the so-called Arches cluster, one of the most dense star clusters in our galaxy, is clearly visible. A supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way is visible as a white glowing spot a little to the right of the center of the image. The area of the black hole is clearly visible in the picture, due to the glow of the superheated clouds of dust and gas surrounding the black hole.
“Now we have managed to see some of the most active areas in the galaxy where the rapid formation of new stars takes place. And these areas” appeared “in this image for the first time in the history of astronomy,” says Matt Hankins, supervisor of the program.
A new shot was obtained thanks to the unique features of the SOFIA Observatory. The telescope is installed on board the Boeing 747SP airliner, which rises to a height of more than 12 kilometers. This, in turn, avoids the influence of most of the atmospheric interference, which adversely affects all ground-based observatories.
The use of infrared light gives the SOFIA telescope the ability to “look” through dense clouds of dust and clearly see objects that appear to be only blurry spots for ordinary optical telescopes. But the equipment of the SOFIA observatory gives it a lot of advantages even in comparison with other infrared astronomical instruments. This observatory can take pictures using shorter shutter speeds, which allows you to get clearer pictures. Moreover, the SOFIA telescope can see through the cold dust clouds the light emitted by warmer dust clouds.
Note that to obtain a picture of the center of our galaxy, we used data obtained by several telescopes. Most of this data was provided by the FORCAST (Faint Object Infrared Camera) of the SOFIA Observatory. And the data collected by the Herschel and Spitzer space telescopes contributed significantly to this image.
In conclusion, it should be mentioned that this image will serve to determine the most interesting areas in the center of our galaxy, which will first of all be “captured by the attention” of astronomical instruments of the next generations, including the James Webb Space Telescope.