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A Tour of a New Galactic Center Adventure in Virtual Reality

By combining data from telescopes with supercomputer simulations and virtual reality (or "VR"), a new visualization allows you to experience 500 years of cosmic evolution around the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

This visualization, called "Galactic Center VR", is the latest in a series from astrophysicists, and is based on data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes. This new installment features their NASA supercomputer simulations of material streaming toward the Milky Way's four-million-solar-mass black hole known as Sagittarius A*. The visualization has been loaded into a VR environment as a novel method of exploring these simulations, and is available for free.

When winds from hot massive stars in the region collide, they generate material that is heated to millions of degrees by shocks — similar to sonic booms — and produce large amounts of X-rays. The center of the Galaxy is too distant for astronomers to see individual examples of these collisions, but astronomers can use Chandra with its sharp X-ray vision to detect the overall X-ray glow of this hot gas.

These and other data were incorporated into supercomputer simulations at NASA Ames. The result is this remarkable visualization that spans the simulation's full size of three light years, or about 18 trillion million miles, around Sagittarius A*. The visualization delivers a 3D perspective through the use of VR goggles. By providing a six-degrees-of-freedom VR experience, the user can look and move in any direction they choose. The user can also play the simulation at different speeds and choose between seeing all 25 winds or just one wind to observe how the individual elements affect each other in this environment.

This visualization is the latest way that Chandra is bringing the wonders of the center of the Milky Way a little bit closer to home for everyone to experience.

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