NASA announces the Galactic Center Visualization Project at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society. The visualization gives viewers a 360-degree view of the supermassive black hole located at the center of the Milky Way.
Our knowledge about the Milky Way is constantly expanding and so is the public’s interest to learn more about what makes our galaxy tick. At this stage in our evolution, it’s fairly challenging to explore planets in our Solar system, yet alone travel across the galaxy in person or even via unmanned spacecraft.
But just because we can’t physically go somewhere that doesn’t mean we can’t take a peek. In fact, humanity’s most advanced telescopes can see and analyze large portions of the Milky Way, including its mysterious center. Scientists have a pretty good idea of what’s lurking there but now everyone can take a virtual trip to the galactic center thanks to a new project announced by NASA.
The project comes in the form of a 360 degrees visualization of the galactic center along with its neighboring stars. Viewers are first greeted by Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole that sits at the very center of the Milky Way and exerts its influence over the entire galaxy.
In addition to Sagittarius A*, viewers are also able to see 25 massive stars that orbit within approximately 1.5 light years away from the galactic center. NASA refers to these massive celestial bodies as Wolf-Rayet stars and explains how the powerful gas winds emanating from these starts collide with gas clouds released by other stars and create shock waves akin to sonic booms. In turn, the shock waves heat the gas to extreme temperatures and cause it to glow in X-rays.
As you might imagine, this entire process doesn’t just happen overnight. Luckily, NASA’s Galactic Center Visualization project takes place during the span of 500 years so that viewers can get a good look at the phenomenon. According to NASA, astronomers are very interested in studying Wolf-Rayet stars and how they affect the galactic center.
As for the main attraction, Sagittarius A* is reportedly around 26,000 light years away from Earth and has the mass equivalent of about four million Suns. They don’t call it a supermassive black hole for nothing. In other words, it’s good that we have this visualization because even if we could visit the center of the galaxy, chances are that it would be a one-way trip.
The Galactic Center Visualization project was presented at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington DC. NASA constructed the visualization using data from a number of powerful telescopes, including the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope.