It is now possible to take a virtual trip to the centre of the Milky Way with a full 360 degree view. The visualisation has been put together using data from Nasa's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes and allows viewers to control their journey through the galaxy.
This project by the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile also gives users a way to visit the super massive black hole in the centre of the galaxy, see the giant stars and how they interact in the unique environment that no human is likely to ever reach.
Dubbed "The Galactic Center visualization", Nasa is calling it a 360-degree movie. The viewer is placed at the Sagittarius* A, which is super massive black hole in the centre of the galaxy, and right away 20 large stars are visible, orbiting the black hole. The movie begins about 350 years in the past and spans about 500 years in all, notes the report.
Apart from data provided by Nasa, the visualisation also reportedly makes use of information captured by the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, which has been trained on the Wolf-Rayet stars – 30 stellar giants that orbit at around 1.5 light years from the centre of the galaxy. Winds generated at the surface of these stars are powerful enough to throw particles from their upper layers out into interstellar space, notes the report.
When gases flowing out of one of these stars clash with gasses from a neighbouring star, they produce sonic boom-like shock waves and heat the gasses to millions of degrees. This causes the gasses to glow in X-rays, explains Nasa. Chandra has been collecting critical data about these million-degree hot gasses. These events are all visible in the movie.
Researchers are studying these Wolf-Rayet stars to understand what role they have in the cosmic neighbourhood in the centre of the galaxy. Interactions that these stars have with the Sagittarius A* is also a matter of study. The black hole in the centre is not only massive, it is also invisible, yet exerts its power on the entire Milky Way. Its mass is about the same as that of four million Suns.
Earth is located 26,000 light years from the centre of the galaxy, notes Nasa, and since no one is going physically reach the centre, this visualisation is one way to experience what it might look like. Scientists have been studying this region using powerful telescopic tools that can capture light in its various forms, including X-rays, reports Nasa.