Astronomer's new guide to the galaxy: Largest map of cold dust revealed

Jul 01, 2009
Colour-composite image of part of the Galactic Plane seen by the ATLASGAL survey. In this image, the ATLASGAL submillimeter-wavelength data (at 870 µm) are shown in red, overlaid on a view of the region in infrared light, from the Midcourse Space Experiment (MSX) in blue (8.28 µm) and in green (14.65/21.3 µm). The total size of the image is approximately 42 degrees by 1.75 degrees. Image: ESO.

This new guide for astronomers, known as the APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy (ATLASGAL) shows the Milky Way in submillimetre-wavelength light (between infrared light and radio waves). Images of the cosmos at these wavelengths are vital for studying the birthplaces of new stars and the structure of the crowded galactic core.

"ATLASGAL gives us a new look at the Milky Way. Not only will it help us investigate how massive stars form, but it will also give us an overview of the larger-scale structure of our galaxy", said Frederic Schuller from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, leader of the ATLASGAL team.

The area of the new submillimetre map is approximately 95 square degrees, covering a very long and narrow strip along the galactic plane two degrees wide (four times the width of the full Moon) and over 40 degrees long. The 16 000 pixel-long map was made with the LABOCA submillimetre-wave camera on the ESO-operated APEX telescope. APEX is located at an altitude of 5100 m on the arid plateau of Chajnantor in the Chilean Andes — a site that allows optimal viewing in the submillimetre range. The Universe is relatively unexplored at submillimetre wavelengths, as extremely dry atmospheric conditions and advanced detector technology are required for such observations.

The — the material between the stars — is composed of gas and grains of , rather like fine sand or soot. However, the gas is mostly hydrogen and relatively difficult to detect, so astronomers often search for these dense regions by looking for the faint heat glow of the cosmic dust grains.

Submillimetre light allows astronomers to see these dust clouds shining, even though they obscure our view of the Universe at wavelengths. Accordingly, the ATLASGAL map includes the denser central regions of our galaxy, in the direction of the constellation of Sagittarius — home to a — that are otherwise hidden behind a dark shroud of dust clouds.

The newly released map also reveals thousands of dense dust clumps, many never seen before, which mark the future birthplaces of massive stars. The clumps are typically a couple of light-years in size, and have masses of between ten and a few thousand times the mass of our Sun. In addition, ATLASGAL has captured images of beautiful filamentary structures and bubbles in the interstellar medium, blown by supernovae and the winds of bright stars.

Some striking highlights of the map include the centre of the Milky Way, the nearby massive and dense cloud of molecular gas called Sagittarius B2, and a bubble of expanding gas called RCW120, where the interstellar medium around the bubble is collapsing and forming new stars.

"It's exciting to get our first look at ATLASGAL, and we will be increasing the size of the map over the next year to cover all of the galactic plane visible from the APEX site on Chajnantor, as well as combining it with infrared observations to be made by the ESA Herschel Space Observatory. We look forward to new discoveries made with these maps, which will also serve as a guide for future observations with ALMA", said Leonardo Testi from ESO, who is a member of the ATLASGAL team and the European Project Scientist for the ALMA project.

Source: ESO (news : web)

Explore further: The changing laws that determine how dust affects the light that reaches us from the stars

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

APEX reveals glowing stellar nurseries

Nov 11, 2008

The region, called RCW120, is about 4200 light years from Earth, towards the constellation of Scorpius. A hot, massive star in its centre is emitting huge amounts of ultraviolet radiation, which ionises the ...

Black hole outflows from Centaurus A detected with APEX

Jan 28, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Astronomers have a new insight into the active galaxy Centaurus A (NGC 5128), as the jets and lobes emanating from the central black hole have been imaged at submillimetre wavelengths for ...

Astronomers detect matter torn apart by black hole

Nov 18, 2008

The team of European and US astronomers used ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) and the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope, both in Chile, to study light from Sagittarius A* at near-infrared wavelengths ...

First light for word's largest 'thermometer camera'

Aug 06, 2007

The world's largest bolometer camera for submillimetre astronomy is now in service at the 12-m APEX telescope, located on the 5100m high Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean Andes. LABOCA was specifically designed for the study ...

Desert Pathfinder at Work

Sep 26, 2005

Sub-millimetre APEX telescope inaugurated at Chajnantor. The Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) project celebrates the inauguration of its outstanding 12-m telescope, located on the 5100 m high Chajnantor plateau in the Ata ...

Chandra Peers at Cosmic Super Bubbles

Aug 31, 2007

Using the Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers explored a particular region of clouds and gas where stars are forming in one of the Milky Way's closest galactic neighbors.

Recommended for you

ESO image: A study in scarlet

9 hours ago

This new image from ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that ...

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

Apr 15, 2014

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...

Pushy neighbors force stellar twins to diverge

Apr 15, 2014

(Phys.org) —Much like an environment influences people, so too do cosmic communities affect even giant dazzling stars: Peering deep into the Milky Way galaxy's center from a high-flying observatory, Cornell ...

Image: Multiple protostars within IRAS 20324+4057

Apr 14, 2014

(Phys.org) —A bright blue tadpole appears to swim through the inky blackness of space. Known as IRAS 20324+4057 but dubbed "the Tadpole", this clump of gas and dust has given birth to a bright protostar, ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

omatumr
1 / 5 (1) Jul 06, 2009
CONGRATULATIONS!

This may turn out to be useful information. The cosmos is supposedly made of element #1, Hydrogen, and element #2, Helium.

Since these do not make "cosmic dust", these pictures tell us about the cosmic distribution of the condensable elements that comprise 99% of all the material in the Earth, ordinary meteorites, and rocky planets.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
http://myprofile....anuelo09

More news stories

Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

(Phys.org) —Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published ...

Let's put a sailboat on Titan

The large moons orbiting the gas giants in our solar system have been getting increasing attention in recent years. Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is the only natural satellite known to house a thick atmosphere. ...

ESO image: A study in scarlet

This new image from ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that ...

How kids' brain structures grow as memory develops

Our ability to store memories improves during childhood, associated with structural changes in the hippocampus and its connections with prefrontal and parietal cortices. New research from UC Davis is exploring ...

Gate for bacterial toxins found

Prof. Dr. Dr. Klaus Aktories and Dr. Panagiotis Papatheodorou from the Institute of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology of the University of Freiburg have discovered the receptor responsible ...