Photos from satellites and other sources are just one of the ways we learn about the universe around us. NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, for example, can create composite views of radio waves and X-ray waves, which is exactly what we see in this new image of the Milky Way. And wow, is it awesome.
The photo, originally released in May, shows a composite image of our galaxy’s core, and combined Chandra’s X-ray images with radio-wave data from South Africa’s MeerKAT Radio Telescope. NASA colorized the striking image so that all of the lightwaves are visible to the human eye. The brighter band at the center of the image is the Milky Way’s plane, which is a disk of matter where most of its stars are located.
The accompanying explainer video from NASA (above) states that the image “contains a wealth of scientific information” to explore. One of the most fascinating elements found within the image are threads—long, narrow bands of X-rays comprised of superheated gas and magnetic fields. One such thread runs perpendicular to our galaxy’s plane and looks to have X-ray and radio emission intertwined. It measures 20 light-years long but is only one-hundredth that size in width. Researchers think the threads were formed due to magnetic fields that collided with and twisted around each other.
NASA’s panoramic image uncovered several other amazing elements as well, like enormous plumes of hot gas that extend 700 light-years above and below the Milky Way’s plane. These plumes are believed to be heated by things like supernova explosions and hard-to-detect magnetic reconnections. There is also a supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s center, too, which also impacts movement and other elements.
Regardless, the image is wondrous and nothing short of awe-inspiring. Studying the threads and other elements in greater detail can teach us more about things like space weather. You can read a new (and more detailed) report about the latest study on X-ray and radio properties by Q. Daniel Wong here.