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The Milky Way’s tumultuous heart revealed in X-rays


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Credit: © ESA/XMM-Newton/G. Ponti et al. 2015.

The central regions of our galaxy, the Milky Way, seen in X-rays by ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray observatory. This image portrays powerful remnants of dead stars and their mighty action on the surrounding gas, showing us an unprecedented view of the Milky Way’s energetic core. The image combines data collected at energies from 0.5 to 2 keV (shown in red), 2 to 4.5 keV (shown in green) and 4.5 to 12 keV (shown in blue). It spans about 2.5° across, equivalent to about one thousand light-years.
This new image of impressive remnants of dead stars and their strong action on the surrounding gas from the ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray satellite laboratory reveals some of the most extreme processes taking place at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way.
Point-like sources that stand out across the image trace binary stellar systems in which one of the stars has reached the end of its life, known as bright points, evolving into a compact and dense object — a neutron star or black hole. Because of their high densities, these compact fragments devour mass from their companion star, heating up the material and causing it to shine intensely in X-rays. Central region of Milky Way also contains stellar clusters and young stars. Some of these are observable as red or white sources sprinkled throughout the picture, which spans about one thousand light-years. Most of the action is occurring at the center, where diffuse clouds of gas are being carved by violent winds blown by young stars, as well as by supernovae, the explosive demise of huge stars. The supermassive black hole sitting at the center of the Galaxy is also responsible for some of this action. This black hole known as Sagittarius A* has a mass a few million times that of our Sun, and it’s located within the bright, fuzzy source to the right of the image center. Astrophysicists believe that these lobes are caused either directly by the black hole, objects which swallows part of the matter that flows onto it but emits out most of it, or by the collective effect of the numerous stellar storms and supernova bangs that occur in such a dense environment.
This image, showing us an unprecedented view of the Milky Way’s energetic core, was put together in a new study by compiling all observations of this region that were performed with XMM-Newton, adding up to about one and a half months of monitoring in total.

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Credit: © ESA/XMM-Newton/G. Ponti et al. 2015.

The central regions of our galaxy, the Milky Way, seen in X-rays by ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray observatory. This image combines data collected at energies that correspond to the light emitted by heavy elements such as silicon and argon, which are produced primarily in supernova explosions, as well as other narrow energy bands. It spans about 2.5° across, equivalent to about one thousand light-years.

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