Milky Way Galaxy

Too Hot to Swallow


We are delighted to welcome Q. Daniel Wang as a guest blogger today. Daniel is the first author of a paper dissecting the X-ray-emitting gas around the center of our Galaxy, the subject of our latest press release. He is a professor in astronomy at University of Massachusetts Amherst. He was the Principal Investigator of the first large-scale Chandra and Hubble surveys of the Galactic center to explore various components of this exotic ecosystem. He recently enjoyed a four-month stay at University of Cambridge as a Beverley Sackler Distinguished Visiting astronomer, where much of the work reported in the paper was finished.

It has been known for a while that almost all massive galaxies contain a giant black hole at their centers. Most of such black holes, including the one at the center of our own Galaxy, are, however, far dimmer than quasars typically seen in the early universe. This dimness cannot simply be explained by decreasing amounts of material that the black holes could capture. Have the black holes lost their appetite? Or do they just swallow everything that is captured without much radiation? Many theories have been developed. But direct observational tests are hard to come by.

Taking Our Galactic Self-portrait

One of Chandra's most iconic images is that of the center of our Galaxy. We should say, more accurately, that this image is just a small piece of Milky Way's center. This image - which stretches some 900 light years in one direction and 400 light years in the other - is actually a montage of 30 separate Chandra images that have been stitched together to create this stunning X-ray tableau. Even with all of that data, this image still only represents a small fraction of the plane of the Milky Way, which stretches some 100,000 light years across (again, compared to just 900 light years in our image.) But even in that relatively small space, we see how amazing our Galaxy is. There's a supermassive black hole and hundreds of other objects, including neutron stars, smaller black holes, stars and more.
Galactic Center
But when do we get a full picture of the Milky Way? The answer is we don't. Since our Solar System is embedded within our Galaxy, we never get a real astronomical image of what it looks from the outside as produced by a telescope. (What we see when we are "looking" at a complete picture of the Milky Way is an artist's representation - or another spiral galaxy that is standing in as its stunt double.)

Resolving a Galactic Mystery

An extremely deep Chandra X-ray Observatory image of a region near the center of our Galaxy has resolved a long-standing mystery about an X-ray glow along the plane of the Galaxy. The glow in the region covered by the Chandra image was discovered to be caused by hundreds of point-like X- ray sources, implying that the glow along the plane of the Galaxy is due to millions of such sources.


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