Here’s the centre of our galaxy in all its glory

1 Apr 2016

NASA’s hardworking Hubble Telescope has produced an image of the very centre of the Milky Way, packed with millions of stars squashed together in a relatively small space.

The latest image surfacing from Hubble’s vast suite of stunning space snaps is the very core of our Milky Way, which has half a million stars in the very centre.

The galaxy’s nucleus is home to a central, supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A-star, which is 4m times the mass of our sun.

Hubble Telescope

The blue stars you see in the picture above are in the foreground, but everything else is part of the Milky Way’s nuclear star cluster, the densest collection of stars in our galaxy.

Normally hidden by ‘space dust’, Hubble’s infrared capabilities let scientists peer through the fog, revealing what it calls a ‘rich tapestry’.

NASA said that dense clouds which Hubble cannot penetrate appear as dark silhouettes against the bright background stars. This implies that all the darkness you see is actually hidden stars. Mind. Blown.

So packed with stars is this image, this cluster, that it’s equivalent to having a million suns crammed between us and our closest stellar neighbour, Alpha Centauri.

Hubble Telescope NASA stars Milky Way

This annotated, infrared image from Hubble shows the scale of the galactic core. The galaxy’s nucleus (marked) is home to a central, supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A-star, all images via NASA/ESA/STScI/AURA

Hubble’s sharp vision allowed astronomers to measure the movements of the stars over four years. Using this information, scientists were able to infer important properties such as the mass and structure of the nuclear star cluster.

The motion of the stars may also offer a glimpse into how the star cluster was formed — whether it was built up over time by globular star clusters that happen to fall into the galaxy’s centre, or from gas spiralling in from the Milky Way’s disk to form stars at the core.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic