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.
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.