Changing Planet

NASA Unveils Stunning New Milky Way Portrait

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has provided an unprecedented infrared view of the Milky Way galaxy. This image represents a small portion of the 20-gigapixel mosaic available online. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Wisconsin

Talk about an out-of-this-world map! NASA has unveiled a stunning new clickable panoramic portrait of our home galaxy, the Milky Way.

The zoomable, 360-degree view was constructed from more than two million infrared snapshots taken over the past ten years by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

“If we actually printed this out, we’d need a billboard as big as the Rose Bowl Stadium to display it,” said Robert Hurt, an imaging specialist at NASA’s Spitzer Space Science Center in Pasadena, California.

“Instead, we’ve created a digital viewer that anyone, even astronomers, can use.”

Despite its 20-gigapixel size, the new map captures only about 3 percent of our sky. However, since the space telescope’s vision was focused for a total of 172 days along the thin disk of the Milky Way galaxy, it shows more than half of its stars. Most of the dusty, jam-packed star fields that we see in this mosaic appear crowded together along the central bar of stars that marks the downtown core of our galaxy.

Overall, the Milky Way resembles a common spiral galaxy, one that takes on a flattened disk shape, with our little solar system located in the outer third of one of its arms.

Take your own tour of the Milky Way online at http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/glimpse360.

See for Yourself

Anyone under dark skies away from city lights can step outside on any clear night this time of the year and check out the beauty of the Milky Way for themselves.

This sky chart shows the Milky Way arch stretching across the western sky through some of the major winter constellations visible after nightfall at the end of March. Credit: Starry Night Software / A.Fazekas
This sky chart shows the Milky Way arch stretching across the western sky through some of the major winter constellations visible after nightfall at the end of March. Credit: Starry Night Software / A. Fazekas

Face toward the western sky and observe the ghostly glow of our galaxy, seen in the form of a faint arc of light stretching from the low northern horizon up high through the west. It then sweeps down through the south.

The entire path that the Milky Way follows in the heavens (which is in fact one of the spiral arms of our galaxy laid out before us) can be easily traced, because it plows right through some of the brightest wintertime constellations. They are now setting in the west in the Northern Hemisphere. For folks in the Southern Hemisphere, the Milky Way appears stretched out from the southeast to the west.

If you are stuck in the light-polluted suburbs, the Milky Way is pretty much invisible. However, with an average pair of binoculars, you can easily scan the sky and tour the vast numbers of clusters and streams of stars that make up the Milky Way. Just follow the bright constellation of stars such as Sirius, Betelgeuse, and Capella, which will act as your guideposts.

It is amazing to think that all the countless points of light that make up this starry band are actually millions of stars. Most of them are tens of thousands of light-years away from Earth, yet are part of the island of stars that we call our galactic home.

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter,  Facebook, and his website.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • Harshil Darji

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  • bern stein

    I am impressed. Very few journalists got this report right. Concise and correct.

  • Gayle Trent

    Would it be possible to obtain a color 9×12 photo, suitable
    for framing of the image of the Milky Way portrayed in your article?
    Thanks

  • Nat Turner

    It is good to know that after so many millennia that man has not ceased to look to the stars from whence the ancients taught us so much wisdom and left us markers with which to remember.
    The pyramid complex at Giza & beyond in Egypt being a precise copy of the Orion constellation known as the God Osiris “Lord of the Perfect Black”, with the great water way the River Nile or Gihon “impersonating” the Milky Way.
    Some argue that the rivers were indeed our earliest roads, if so the Nile’s association to the Milky Way exemplifies it well.
    Great photograph.

  • ezmeralda

    That’s really impressive! NASA is really improving and doing a lot of hard work to discover the universe!! Great job NASA keep up the good work 🙂

  • the planet man

    very good and intresting facts but many wonder what other life are out in the galaxy. some theorys state that the ”aliens” are out there but we really cant know but im no scientist but i dont believe in aliens as too we can not prove that they are real.

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