Monday, February 12, 2024

Sagittarius C: The Milky Way's Galaxy Center | European Southern Observatory

Sagittarius C: The Milky Way's Galaxy Center | European Southern Observatory

Thousands of bright dots in different sizes and colors—red, orange, blue and bluish-white—fill the frame. The dark background is almost completely obscured, aside from a few small black patches peeking through. In the lower left corner, there is a particularly big orange star.

Hundreds of thousands of stars are contained in this infrared image of Sagittarius C, a region near the center of the Milky Way. Taken with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in the Chilean Atacama Desert, this image is helping astronomers unlock a stellar puzzle.

The center of the Milky Way is the most prolific star-forming region in the entire galaxy.  However, astronomers have only found a fraction of the young stars they expected here: there is “fossil” evidence that many more stars were born in the recent past than the ones we actually see. This is because looking towards the center of the galaxy is not an easy task: clouds of dust and gas block the light from the stars and obscure the view. Infrared instruments, such as the HAWK-I camera on the VLT, allow astronomers to peer through these clouds and reveal the starry landscape beyond.

In a recent study, Francisco Nogueras Lara, an astronomer at ESO in Germany, analyzed VLT data of Sagittarius C, a region whose chemical composition made it a promising candidate to host recently formed stars. And it delivered: he found that this region was much richer in young stars than other areas in the galactic center. Looking to similar regions, now, is a promising lead to find the other missing young stars.

Credit: European Southern Observatory (ESO)/F. Nogueras-Lara et al.

Release Date: Feb. 12, 2024

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