The galactic plane over four wavelengths. Image: ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck
About 90 percent of the global population lives north of the equator, so it’s no wonder that the Southern Hemisphere often gets short-shift. But when it comes to stunning astronomical vistas, Earth’s South side can’t be beat. With its reduced light pollution and front row seat to the Milky Way’s galactic center, this half of the planet is widely coveted by astronomers and amateur stargazers.
But don’t take my word for it. This morning, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) dropped a treasure trove of new images of the Milky Way’s galactic plane in high resolution taken by the Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment telescope (APEX), which is situated 5,100 metres (over three miles) above sea level in Chile’s Atacama Desert plateau.
APEX submillimeter snapshot of galactic plane. Image: ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck
This marks the first time that the full Southern plane of the galactic center has been captured at submillimeter wavelengths, which is a region wedged between the infrared and microwave bands of the spectrum. Submillimeter telescopes are useful for observing relatively cold phenomena in the universe, such as the sparkling ring of molecular gas clouds and interstellar dust encircling the spiral tendrils of the Milky Way. You can take a closer look at all these details in this eight minute side-scroller-style video of the new map.
ESO also released this video compilation, which depicts the same view across four wavelength filters—each spotlighting a different class of objects, from radiant stars in the visible band to glowing nebulae at the near-infrared.
Southern galactic plane across wavelength filters. Video: European Southern Observatory (ESO)/YouTube
The snapshots and videos represent the completion of a detailed new galactic map called the APEX Large Area Survey of the Galaxy (ATLASGAL).
“ATLASGAL has allowed us to have a new and transformational look at the dense interstellar medium of our own galaxy, the Milky Way,” ATLASGAL team member and astronomer Leonardo Testi said in a statement. “The new release of the full survey opens up the possibility to mine this marvellous dataset for new discoveries.”
New discoveries are exciting, no doubt, but for now, it’s just nice to appreciate some good old-fashioned space porn from the underrepresented—but patently gorgeous—Southern skies.