In a Different Light: Center of the Milky Way

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View the center of the Milky Way galaxy in various wavelengths of light and explore what can be learned from each. 

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute, Office of Public Outreach, in collaboration with NASA’s Universe of Learning partners: Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, IPAC, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Sonoma State University.

  • Ground-based radio image: MeerKAT/SARAO; NRAO
  • Spitzer Space Telescope image: NASA, JPL, S. Stolovy (Caltech)
  • Hubble Space Telescope image: NASA, ESA, STScI, Q.D. Wang (Univ. of MA, Amherst)
  • Chandra X-ray Observatory image: NASA, CXC, STScI, Q.D. Wang (Univ. of MA, Amherst)
  • Multi-wavelength image: NASA, ESA, SSC, CXC, and STScI

Writing: Leah Ramsay
Design: Leah Hustak 
Science review lead: Dr. Quyen Hart
Education lead: Timothy Rhue II
Additional editorial input from: Dr. Rutuparna Das, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian
Music courtesy of Associated Production Music


 Text, In A Different Light, Electromagnetic Spectrum. Center of the Milky Way. Quick Facts. Distance, 26,000 light-years. Constellation, Sagittarius. A bar across the bottom of the screen reads, Radio, Microwave, Infrared, Visible, Ultraviolet, X-ray, Gamma Ray. 

Constellations, Sagittarius, Teapot, Scorpius. Text, In the constellation Sagittarius, between the Teapot and Scorpius, lies the heart of our galaxy. 

To the unaided eye, the brilliance of countless stars is hidden behind dust clouds light-years thick. 

A radio image of Sagittarius A-Star. The word Radio is highlighted. 

Text, The MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa reveals a powerful source of energy, Sagittarius A-Star, the supermassive black hole a the heart of our galaxy. 

The area surrounding Sagittarius A-Star is the most energetic in the Milky Way, with super-heated gas shining in multiple wavelengths. 

A pink and purple infrared image of Sagittarius A-Star. The word Infrared is highlighted. 

Text, Infrared light detected by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope passes through dust clouds, revealing the great city of stars at the galaxy's center. 

Blazing young stars illuminate thick clouds of gas and dust. 

Many of these cosmic clouds shelter forming stars, waiting to grow massive enough to shine. 

A closer look. 

A red and yellow infrared image of Sagittarius A-Star. The word Infrared is highlighted. 

Text, Adding near-infrared data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope highlights stunning cloud formations light-years long. 

A closer look. 

Winds and radiation from massive young stars blow shapes in the gas. 

A closer look. 

Viewed in infrared light, hot gas is visible swirling around the supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A-Star. 

A blue X-ray image of Sagittarius A-Star. The word X-ray is highlighted. 

Text, High-energy X-rays emitted by the superheated gas around the black hole show up in observations by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. 

A view from farther away. 

Text, Pink represents lower-energy X-rays and blue indicates higher-energy X-ray light. 

Each dot of light represents X-ray emissions from a high-energy source. 

The haze of X-ray light comes from gas heated to millions of degrees by stellar winds. 

A vivid and colorful photo of Sagittarius A-Star. The words Infrared and X-ray are highlighted. 

Text, Together, views of the galactic center in mid-infrared, near-infrared, and X-ray wavelengths display the region's complex structure and dynamic relationships. 

From our outpost in one of the galaxy's spiral arms, this bustling galactic center is a dense vibrant hub of activity that we have only begun to explore.