Over 10 times more stars than previously seen have been imaged in our galaxy’s central area with the VISTA infrared survey telescope in the Chilean Andes.
Using data from the VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea program (VVV), a team of astronomers generated the color image with almost 9 billion pixels, and put together the largest ever catalog of the Milky Way’s bulge or center.
“By observing in detail the myriads of stars surrounding the center of the Milky Way we can learn a lot more about the formation and evolution of not only our galaxy, but also spiral galaxies in general,” said study lead author Roberto Saito at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, in a press release.
Most spiral galaxies have a large grouping of ancient stars around their center.
“Observations of the bulge of the Milky Way are very hard because it is obscured by dust,” said study co-author Dante Minniti, also at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, in the release.
“To peer into the heart of the galaxy, we need to observe in infrared light, which is less affected by the dust.”
For about 84 million stars, each one’s brightness was plotted against its color to create a color–magnitude diagram.
“Each star occupies a particular spot in this diagram at any moment during its lifetime,“ Minniti explained. Where it falls depends on how bright it is and how hot it is.”
“Since the new data gives us a snapshot of all the stars in one go, we can now make a census of all the stars in this part of the Milky Way.”
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