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Journey to the
Center of the
Galaxy


Introduction
Size Scales
Wavelength
Gas Dynamics
Star Dynamics
The Black Hole
Star Formation
 

Andromeda Galaxy - M31

Introduction

Milky Way photomosaic by Lloyd Johnson

What is located at the center of the Milky Way? Well, it might not be the chewy nougat and caramel found on the inside of that famous candy bar, but the unique collection of exotic objects found at the center of our Galaxy have been feeding the interests of astronomers for many decades. The Galactic Center harbors a variety of intriguing puzzles, including a strangely quiescent supermassive black hole, a collection of wispy magnetic filaments, a few dense stellar superclusters which host mysterious and massive stars, a star with a tail, and a family of gas streamers spiraling toward a central dark mass. Just to name a few.

The Galactic Center is obscured from our view by a prodigious amount of absorbing gas and dust that lies along the 25,000 light year (2.5X10^17 mile) distance from there to our Sun. As a result, most of what we know about this part of our galaxy comes from observations of radio and infrared radiation, whose long wavelengths can pass through the dense absorbing medium and reach our telescopes on Earth.



Picture of the Galactic Center as seen from a dark site

Above are two images: One of the Andromeda galaxy (M31), the nearest spiral galaxy to our own. While the picture below it is a photomosaic of the Milky Way galaxy as seen from Earth. Our solar system lies within the Orion spiral arm which puts us within the flat plane of the Milky Way which is why it appears as a fuzzy band of light stretching majestically across the sky. The diffuse light is actually the combined light from millions and millions of stars some which are obscured by immense clouds of dust which is why we see irregular dark patches along the plane.

To the right, is a map so you can find the Galactic Center yourself. It is located near the constellation Sagittarius along with a number of pretty nebula including the Trifid Nebula (M20) and Eagle Nebula (M16) . Both of these Messier objects can be viewed nicely with binoculars. Sagittarius, which is close to Scorpio, is visible primarily during the summer months from April-August.



Last updated: Tuesday, 06-Jun-2006 10:40:22 PDT.
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