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NASA's Great Observatories Celebrate International Year of Astronomy

For Release: November 10, 2009


Galactic Center
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
Press Image and Caption

A never-before-seen view of the turbulent heart of our Milky Way galaxy is being unveiled by NASA on Nov. 10. This event will commemorate the 400 years since Galileo first turned his telescope to the heavens in 1609.

In celebration of this International Year of Astronomy, NASA is releasing images of the galactic center region as seen by its Great Observatories to more than 150 planetariums, museums, nature centers, libraries, and schools across the country.

The sites will unveil a giant, 6-foot-by-3-foot print of the bustling hub of our galaxy that combines a near-infrared view from the Hubble Space Telescope, an infrared view from the Spitzer Space Telescope, and an X-ray view from the Chandra X-ray Observatory into one multiwavelength picture. Experts from all three observatories carefully assembled the final image from large mosaic photo surveys taken by each telescope. This composite image provides one of the most detailed views ever of our galaxy's mysterious core.

Participating institutions also will display 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 galactic center region, illustrating not only the unique science each observatory conducts, but also how far astronomy has come since Galileo.

The composite image features 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 fiery backdrop in the crowded, hostile environment of the galaxy's core, the center of which is dominated by a supermassive black hole nearly four million times more massive than our Sun. Permeating the region is a diffuse blue haze of X-ray light from gas that has been heated to millions of degrees by outflows from the supermassive black hole as well as by winds from massive stars and by stellar explosions. Infrared light reveals more than a hundred thousand stars along with glowing dust clouds that create complex structures including compact globules, long filaments, and finger-like "pillars of creation," where newborn stars are just beginning to break out of their dark, dusty cocoons.

The unveilings will take place at 152 institutions nationwide, reaching both big cities and small towns. Each institution will conduct an unveiling celebration involving the public, schools, and local media.

The Astrophysics Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate supports the International Year of Astronomy Great Observatories image unveiling. The project is a collaboration among the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., the Spitzer Science Center in Pasadena, Calif., and the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass.

Images of the Milky Way galactic center region and a list of places exhibiting these images can be found at: & & &

Media contacts:
J.D. Harrington
Headquarters, Washington

Donna Weaver / Ray Villard
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
410-338-4493 / 4514 /

Whitney Clavin
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Megan Watzke
Chandra X-ray Center, Cambridge, Mass.

Visitor Comments (26)

Universal mean Beyond your inspiration.

Posted by Kyaw Kyaw Moe on Saturday, 12.12.15 @ 23:42pm

Absolutely amazing. No way we are alone.

Posted by Collin grantham on Friday, 06.14.13 @ 09:37am

No person in their right mind would want to get close to the 4 million solar mass black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, except for some Cosmologists who think they can go through the "singularity" and come out on the other side somewhere else in the Universe. Good luck fellas, you're gonna need it!

Posted by Gregg Grider on Monday, 06.3.13 @ 19:53pm

It is really wonderful. And I am very happy with this achievement of NASA. I want to know how the space looks in 3d.

Posted by Rakesh B Kasangeri on Wednesday, 08.25.10 @ 10:32am

It appears to me as if the X-ray portion of the image shows a faint jet coming up from Sagittarius A. Of course, it could be just other hot excited gases that's not associated with Sagittarius A. I don't know if further analysis has been done to determine one way or the other.

Would a lack of radio jet emission be considered enough to rule out such a possibility? Could it still be a remnant of a jet in the not too distant past?

Posted by David Halliday on Tuesday, 01.12.10 @ 10:15am

It looks like the center of the milky way is very light. If you lived on a planet in the middle of the milky way, would there ever be night darkness?
Where can I learn more about this?

Posted by Mike on Monday, 12.14.09 @ 15:14pm

Dear Manuel,
Careful analysis of radio and infrared images has taught us where the center of the galaxy is.
P. Edmonds for CXC

Posted by P. Edmonds on Wednesday, 12.9.09 @ 13:38pm

Dear Madhu,
We won't ever know what's happening now, because of the light travel time. But, it's interesting that the further out we look, the more we can see into the Universe's past.
P. Edmonds for CXC

Posted by P. Edmonds on Wednesday, 12.9.09 @ 13:36pm

Unfortunately, UV images don't probe the area close to the center of the galaxy because of very strong absorption by gas and dust.
P. Edmonds for CXC

Posted by P. Edmonds on Wednesday, 12.9.09 @ 13:35pm

Dear Mark Ballington,
That's an interesting idea. The detail is fine, but it's not that fine.
P. Edmonds for CXC

Posted by P. Edmonds on Wednesday, 12.9.09 @ 13:32pm

Dear José Roberto,
Thanks. There isn't evidence in these images for jets generated by the black hole. It appears to be too inactive for such jets to appear, unlike the case for some large black holes in other galaxies.
P. Edmonds for CXC

Posted by P. Edmonds on Wednesday, 12.9.09 @ 13:29pm

Hi, How do we know the center of the galaxy is in Sagitarius and not say in Gemini constelation direction?

Posted by manuel on Friday, 11.27.09 @ 00:22am

Wonderful and attractive pictures.

Posted by RAKESH B KASANGERI on Monday, 11.23.09 @ 06:08am

Amazing, you folks are doing a great job to humanity.
One question - if this is what it looked like so many light years ago, how do we know what's happening now?
Will we ever know?

Posted by Madhu on Monday, 11.23.09 @ 04:52am

This is an awesome picture. I've seen the infrared galaxy core pic before, but I've never seen the x-ray infrared and visible all combined. There should be a picture of the core in ultraviolet to add to this also.

Posted by True Radiant Free emissary on Sunday, 11.15.09 @ 16:32pm

What a wonderful. And I guess, If this is only the center of the milky way and our planet is more little, What a little we are in this universe.

Posted by Lizeddy on Sunday, 11.15.09 @ 12:18pm

A wonderful composite image. The detail is very fine. I wonder if it is possible to detect the disturbance in dust and gas, made of objects passing through them?

Posted by Mark Ballington on Saturday, 11.14.09 @ 04:41am

Dear Paul,
The stars visible in the galactic center image are moving in various orbits around the supermassive black hole. In terms of galactic motion the black hole is effectively stationary, while out here in the solar system - in the galaxy suburbs - we're swinging around the center of the galaxy as the arms rotate.
P. Edmonds for CXC

Posted by P. Edmonds on Friday, 11.13.09 @ 08:44am

Absolutely outstanding pictures, thank you so much for allowing me to see.

Posted by Gordon Musson on Friday, 11.13.09 @ 05:10am

WOW. I'm sorry, no other words describe it.

Posted by Michele on Thursday, 11.12.09 @ 22:34pm

What a beautiful picture.

I read a while back a book on our galaxy and it said that the black hole in the center of our galaxy is four light years in diameter and the closest stars to it travel around it at 200 miles per second. This has also been stated in various astronomy programs on Cable Television

Thanks so much to the Chandra team for their hard work to educate us lay people about our most marvelous universe.

Marvin L. S.

Posted by Marvin L. S. on Thursday, 11.12.09 @ 19:17pm

love the pic, awesome, my guess it's moving clockwise as viewed from above we are on the side view obviously, upward and away from us. Just a guess based on her structure.

Posted by spacermike on Thursday, 11.12.09 @ 18:28pm

Absolutely amazing.

Posted by Byron Pearce on Thursday, 11.12.09 @ 16:52pm

Wonderful image. Can we distinguish the gas jets streams from the black hole at the center?
José Roberto

Posted by siqueira on Thursday, 11.12.09 @ 14:56pm

Just wonderful
Thank you

Posted by Lawrence Migdale on Wednesday, 11.11.09 @ 11:28am

If you could produce a three dimensional version of this portion of space how would it look? In a three dimensional box which way is the black hole moving through space?

Posted by Paul Schurr on Wednesday, 11.11.09 @ 09:53am