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The Milky Way as you've never seen it before: The colourful centre of our galaxy in all its glory



By Claire Bates

Last updated at 11:57 AM on 11th November 2009




Colourful, swirling clouds of cosmic dust interspersed with glowing star clusters are revealed in this extraordinary image of the Milky Way.


The dazzling image combining reds, yellows, blues and purples, was created by layering stunningly detailed pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory on top of each other.

The Milky Way is at the centre of our galaxy and this image shows its core. The image was created to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei's first demonstration of his telescope.


article-1226815-072AFFC7000005DC-995_964x477.jpg Glorious: This beautiful composite image of the Milky Way was created with shots taken from the telescopes gliding through space, namely the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory


Enlarge article-1226815-072B9D58000005DC-926_312x168.jpg Enlarge article-1226815-072B9D7D000005DC-363_312x168.jpg Enlarge article-1226815-072B9EAF000005DC-795_312x168.jpg Observations from Spitzer (left) Hubble (centre) using infra-red and Chandra (right) using X-rays created the most detailed picture of our galactic centre



The three space observatories peered into the central region of the Milky Way, which is 26,000 light years from Earth. One light year is nearly 6 million million miles, the distance light travels in a year.


Scientists used infrared light and X-rays to see through the obscuring dust and into the intense activity near the galactic core.


The image is 250 light years across and the width of the picture covers about the same angular width as the full Moon.

Each telescope's contribution has been presented in a different colour. Yellow represents the near-infrared observations of Hubble. These observations outline the most active regions where stars are being born and reveal hundreds of thousands of stars.

Red represents the infrared observations of Spitzer. The radiation and winds from stars create glowing dust clouds that form complex structures from compact spheres to long, stringy filaments.

Blue and violet represent the X-ray observations of Chandra. X-rays are emitted by gas heated to millions of degrees by stellar explosions and outflows from the super-massive black hole in the galaxy's centre. The bright blue blob on the left side is an emission from a double star system containing either a neutron star or a black hole.

When these views are brought together, the composite image provides one of the most detailed views ever of our galaxy's mysterious core.

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