NASA takes us on a virtual journey to the centre of the galaxy with 360° views

Proudly supported by

  Last updated January 18, 2018 at 11:54 am


Scientists, using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, have developed a new visualisation of what it would be like to travel to the centre of the Milky Way.

Viewers are put in the location of the supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A*, which lies at the heart of our galaxy, about 26,000 light years from the Earth. From there they can control their exploration of the volatile environment that surrounds them.

The visualisation has been created using data from a range of space telescopes including the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope,  including X-ray and infrared light.

About about 30 stellar giants called Wolf-Rayet stars orbit 1.5 light years from the centre of the Milky Way. Gas streams from their surface carrying some of their outer layers into interstellar space, colliding with the  ejected gas from other stars, to produce shock waves throughout the area which glow in X-rays.

This allows NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to collect critical data about the temperature and distribution of this multimillion-degree gas.

Astronomers are trying to understand better the role played by  these Wolf-Rayet stars and how they interact with Sagittarius A*, the back hole with the mass equivalent to some four million Suns.

The Galactic Center visualisation displays about 20 Wolf-Rayet stars as they were about 350 years ago, and develops as they would over 500 years. It was developed by a team led by Christopher Russell of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, to try to better understand the disc of  X-rays that extend some 0.6 light years outward from Sagittarius A*.

It can be viewed using virtual reality (VR) goggles, such as Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard or on smartphones using the YouTube app.  Moving the phone around pans to show a different portion of the movie.

You can find out more here at the Chandra site.

An annotated Image of Galactic Centre.
Credits: NASA/CXC/Pontifical Catholic Univ. of Chile /C.Russell et al.

About the Author

Australia's Science Channel Editors