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Portrait gives birth to a brand new Milky Way
Friday March 21, 2014 11:57 AM, IANS

Stitching together a dramatic 360 degree portrait of the Milky Way was never an easy task but scientists have done this - leaving our galaxy's structure and contents bare open to all.

Milky Way

Using more than two million infra-red images collected by NASA's orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, a team from University of Wisconsin-Madison has pieced together this new composite picture known as GLIMPSE360 that was unveiled at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Vancouver March 20.

The galactic portrait provides an unprecedented look at the plane of our galaxy, using the infrared imagers aboard Spitzer to cut through the interstellar dust that obscures the view in visible light.

"For the first time, we can actually measure the large-scale structure of the galaxy using stars rather than gas," explained Edward Churchwell, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of astronomy.

Our galaxy has a large bar structure that extends halfway out to the sun's orbit. We know more about where the Milky Way's spiral arms are, he added.

In addition to providing new revelations about galactic structure, the telescope and the images processed by the Wisconsin team have made possible the addition of more than 200 million new objects to the catalogue of the Milky Way.

"This gives us some idea about the general distribution of stars in our galaxy, and stars, of course, make up a major component of the baryonic mass of the Milky Way," Churchwell noted.

The image is interactive and zoomable, giving users the ability to look through the plane of the galaxy and zero in on a variety of objects, including nebulae, bubbles, jets, bow shocks, the centre of the galaxy and other exotic phenomena.

"We can see every star-forming region in the plane of the galaxy," said Robert Benjamin, a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

The new GLIMPSE composite image will be made widely available to astronomers and planetaria, said scientists.

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