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Museum unveils images of galaxy center | Nov 19

A dramatic new vista of the center of the Milky Way galaxy from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory exposes new levels of the complexity and intrigue in the Galactic center. The mosaic of 88 Chandra pointings represents a freeze-frame of the spectacle of stellar evolution, from bright young stars to black holes, in a crowded, hostile environment dominated by a central, supermassive black hole.

A dramatic new vista of the center of the Milky Way galaxy from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory exposes new levels of the complexity and intrigue in the Galactic center. The mosaic of 88 Chandra pointings represents a freeze-frame of the spectacle of stellar evolution, from bright young stars to black holes, in a crowded, hostile environment dominated by a central, supermassive black hole.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences will take visitors on a journey to the center of our Galaxy when it unveils unprecedented mural-sized images of the Milky Way’s core as seen by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory. The images will be unveiled to the public on Thursday, November 19.

Prior to the unveiling, join Michael J. Malaska of the Raleigh Astronomy Club at 6:00 pm in the Museum auditorium for a free presentation describing how NASA’s orbiting Great Observatories captured these amazing images, which will then be revealed at 7:00 pm. Additionally, Museum educators will be on hand to introduce visitors to live “Animals of the Constellations,” and members of Cary Space Camp are bringing a lunar surface backdrop and space suits so visitors can dress up and take pictures “on the moon.”

The stunning photographs of the central region of our Galaxy commemorate the International Year of Astronomy 2009, which celebrates the 400th anniversary of Galileo turning a telescope to the heavens. Since Galileo’s spyglass, telescopes have grown ever larger and ever better, and have moved to mountaintops and into space. NASA’s Great Observatories represent the crowning achievements of astronomy four centuries later and are honoring this legacy with a national image unveiling.

A giant 6-foot-by-3-foot image presents a unique view that showcases the Galaxy in near-infrared light observed by Hubble, infrared light observed by Spitzer, and X-ray light observed by Chandra. This combined image was carefully assembled from mosaic photo surveys of the core by each telescope. It provides the most wide-ranging view ever of our Galaxy’s mysterious hub.

Composite image of the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Credit: X-ray: NASA/ CXC/ UMass/D. Wang et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI/D.Wang et al.; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSC/S.Stolovy

Composite image of the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Credit: X-ray: NASA/ CXC/ UMass/D. Wang et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI/D.Wang et al.; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSC/S.Stolovy

The Museum will also unveil a matched trio of Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra images of the Milky Way’s center on a second large panel measuring 3 feet by 4 feet. Each image shows the telescope’s different wavelength view of the central region of our Galaxy that illustrates not only the unique science each observatory conducts, but also how far astronomy has come since Galileo. All images will be on permanent display on the Museum’s fourth floor.

Within these images one can trace the spectacle of stellar evolution: from vibrant regions of star birth, to young hot stars, to old cool stars, to seething remnants of stellar death called black holes. This activity occurs against a vivid backdrop in the crowded, hostile environment of the Galaxy’s core, the center of which is dominated by a supermassive black hole millions of times more massive than our Sun. These multi-wavelength views provide both stunning beauty and a wealth of scientific information that could not have been dreamed of by Galileo.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, 11 West Jones St., downtown Raleigh, documents and interprets the natural history of the state through exhibits, research, collections, publications and educational programming.

Visit us at naturalsciences.org. Hours: Mon-Sat., 9am-5pm and Sun., Noon-5pm. General admission is free. The Museum is an agency of the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Dee Freeman, Secretary.

Also of Interest: Leonid Meteor Shower. On Nov. 17, 2009, Earth will pass through the 1466 stream again, but this time closer to the center. Based on the number of meteors observed in 2008, Vaubaillon can estimate the strength of the coming display: five hundred or more Leonids per hour during a few-hour peak centered on 21:43 UT.

Also of Interest: Leonid Meteor Shower. On Nov. 17, 2009, Earth will pass through the 1466 stream again, but this time closer to the center. Based on the number of meteors observed in 2008, Vaubaillon can estimate the strength of the coming display: five hundred or more Leonids per hour during a few-hour peak centered on 21:43 UT.

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Categorised in: Museums, News