Get a GLIMPSE of the real Milky Way with this 360-degree interactive map

A slice of the Milky Way in Scorpius and Sagittarius from the new zoomable Milky Way mosaic called GLIMPSE360. Two million images were used to create it. Click to zoom over to the interactive version. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GLIMPSE team

NASA’s in big picture mode this week. On Wednesday we traveled to the moon’s north pole with a fabulous, interactive gigapixel map. Now you can explore a similar interactive mosaic of the Milky Way called GLIMPSE360 or Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire. Some fierce creativity went into squeezing that into a word!

Two million images taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope over the past 10 years were stitched together to create the 20-gigapixel map. Spitzer shoots photos in infrared light, which lies to just beyond the red end of the rainbow spectrum. You and I can’t see infrared, but we can feel it as heat. When it comes to peering into our galaxy’s innards, infrared does a much better job than visual light because it’s able to penetrate the stellar smog – interstellar dust – that litters the Milky Way’s spiral arms.


A GLIMPSE of the Milky Way

Here’s the crazy thing about the mosaic. It only captures about 3% of the sky, but it’s centered on the thin plane of our galaxy where most of the stars are concentrated.

So what can we see? Well over half of the Milky Way’s 300 billion suns for starters, plus stellar nurseries swathed in fluorescent pink clouds of hydrogen and giant expanding gas bubbles inflated by gusty winds from supergiant stars. Oh – there’s also the galactic center. It’s totally obscured by dust in normal telescopes but infrared waves reveal a glowing core.

The best current model of the Milky Way galaxy. We live in a flattered, pancake-like disk about 100,000 light years wide. The solar system is located about two-thirds from the center to the outer edge in a small spiral arm called the Orion Spur. Credit: NASA

You and I may simply enjoy taking in the sights like tourists, but astronomers are using these photos/montage to discover new things about our home galaxy. Spitzer has revealed the true extent of the chunky bar of stars bisecting the core and discovered that the Milky Way is larger than had previously been thought.

The map will also be used to target specific regions of star formation for closer examination with NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.

There’s something for everyone with the new interactive panorama. Check it out.

For more information on the project, click HERE.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

4 thoughts on “Get a GLIMPSE of the real Milky Way with this 360-degree interactive map

  1. Simply amazing! I doodled for hours, zooming in and around my favorite constellations.
    I was wondering why it didn’t split the “double double” in Lyra? Mizar and Alcor split nicely.
    Anyway…..thanks so much for sharing this, and all that you share with us not so fortunate to have your abilities and passion. Truly great stuff

    BB

    • Hi Bob,
      Thank you so much, and I’m happy you had fun with GLIMPSE360. I haven’t look at the “double-double” but did you mean the wide pair or the two tight pairs?

  2. I couldn’t get the 2 tight pairs to resolve. Might be something I am doing wrong.
    Anyway…..with this tool, who needs a telescope?
    Ok……I’ll admit, being at the eyepiece has rewards. :)

    • Bob,
      I looked up the resolution of Spitzer and found it ranges from 2 seconds for the shortest wavelengths to 40 seconds for the longest. That would probably explain why it couldn’t resolve the individual pairs of the double-double. Yes, the eye does still have a few advantages!

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