3D Movie of Stellar Orbits in the Central Parsec

This movie is copyrighted by the University of Illinois and is available for academic and educational purposes only. Credits integrated within the movie are required for its use. For any broadcast or commercial use of this movie, please contact Trish Barker tlbarker [at] illinois [dot] edu or Robert Patterson robertp [at] illinois [dot] edu or Deanna Spivey 217 244 1996. U. of Illinois NCSA Advanced Visualization Laboratory

Stellar orbits that have revealed the existence of a supermassive black hole that is 4 million times the mass of the sun and that lies at the center of the Galaxy ~25,000 light years away. The Galactic center also plays host to an unexpected population of young, massive stars, whose orbits can provide insight into their origin as well as the hostile environment surrounding a supermassive black hole. The movie shows a 3-dimensional visualization of the stellar orbits in the Galactic center based on data obtained by the W. M. Keck Telescopes between 1995 and 2012. Stars with the best determined orbits are shown with full ellipses and trails behind each star span ~15-20 years. These stars are color-coded to represent their spectral type: Early-type (young) stars are shown in teal green, late-type (old) stars are shown in orange, and those with unknown spectral type are shown in magenta. Stars without ellipses are from a statistical sample and follow the observed radial distributions for the early (white) or late (yellow/orange) type stars. These stars are embedded in a model representation of the inner Milky Way provided by NCSA/AVL to provide context for the visualization.

The movie begins at the very center of the Galaxy, ~0.015 pc from the supermassive black hole, in the year 1893, and pulls away to a distance of 0.2 pc as the movie reaches the year 2013, ending from the viewing angle of Earth.

Interesting things to notice:
Observations of the Galactic center have revealed two paradoxes: there are far fewer old stars and many more young stars than expected based on theories.
Stars in the central ~0.04 pc (1'') are on randomly distributed orbits.
Just outside the central arcsecond, there are many young stars orbiting the supermassive black hole in a common plane. These stars likely formed in a massive, gaseous disk in the central parsec.