Telescope gives glimpse of Milky Way's center

The MeerKAT telescope provides astronomers with a brand new glimpse of the center of the Milky Way.
By Joseph Scalise | Dec 13, 2018
A brand new mega-telescope has taken the best picture of the Milky Way's center on record.

The new technology -- known as MeerKAT radio telescope -- is made up of 64 small dishes that work to detect radio waves. All of the devices sit in the Karoo region of South Africa and are much more sensitive than any other similar object.

That extra sensitivity is key because it allowed MeerKAT to image the region around the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy -- which sits 25,000 light-years away -- in great detail.

The colors in the image reveal the brightness of the radio waves detected, and they range from red to orange to white.

While the picture seems like nothing more than a giant fireball at first glance, it reveals may new features.

For example, it shows compact sources of the long, magnetized filaments that come off the Milky Way's central region, and it also provides a new look into previously unknown supernova remnants and star-forming regions.

The filaments are particularly important because, while researchers have spent decades analyzing them, nobody understands why they are only near the black hole.

"This image is remarkable,"said Farhad Yusef-Zadeh, a researcher at Northwestern University, according toNewsweek."It shows so many features never before seen, including compact sources associated with some of the filaments, that it could provide the key to cracking the code and solve this three-decade riddle."

Another reason the image is so special is because the center of the Milky Way is notoriously hard to photograph. Not only is it incredibly far away, but it also sits behind the constellation Sagittarius, which hides it from optical telescopes.

MeerKAT gets around that because it is able to detect certain radio wavelengths that other machines cannot.

"We wanted to show the science capabilities of this new instrument," saidFernando Camilo, chief scientist of the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), which built and operates MeerKAT, according to Science Alert. "The center of the galaxy was an obvious target: unique, visually striking and full of unexplained phenomena but also notoriously hard to image using radio telescopes ... Although it's early days with MeerKAT, and a lot remains to be optimised, we decided to go for it and were stunned by the results."

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