11.10.09

NASA's Great Observatories Celebrate International Year of Astronomy

PASADENA, Calif. -- A never-before-seen view of the turbulent heart of our Milky Way galaxy is being unveiled by NASA today. This event will commemorate the 400 years since Galileo first turned his telescope to the heavens in 1609.

In celebration of this International Year of Astronomy, NASA is releasing images of the galactic center region as seen by its Great Observatories to more than 150 planetariums, museums, nature centers, libraries and schools across the country.

The sites will unveil a giant, 6-foot-by-3-foot print of the bustling hub of our galaxy that combines a near-infrared view from the Hubble Space Telescope, an infrared view from the Spitzer Space Telescope, and an X-ray view from the Chandra X-ray Observatory into one multiwavelength picture. Experts from all three observatories carefully assembled the final image from large mosaic photo surveys taken by each telescope. This composite image provides one of the most detailed views ever of our galaxy's mysterious core.

Participating institutions also will display a matched trio of Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra images of the Milky Way's center on a second large panel measuring 3 feet by 4 feet. Each image shows the telescope's unique wavelength view of the galactic center region, illustrating not only the unique science each observatory conducts, but also how far astronomy has come since Galileo.

The composite image features the spectacle of stellar evolution: from vibrant regions of star birth, to young hot stars, to old cool stars, to seething remnants of stellar death called black holes. This activity occurs against a fiery backdrop in the crowded, hostile environment of the galaxy's core, the center of which is dominated by a supermassive black hole nearly four million times more massive than our sun. Permeating the region is a diffuse blue haze of X-ray light from gas that has been heated to millions of degrees by outflows from the supermassive black hole, as well as by winds from massive stars and stellar explosions. Infrared light reveals more than a hundred thousand stars along with glowing dust clouds that create complex structures, including compact globules, long filaments, and finger-like "pillars of creation," where newborn stars are just beginning to break out of their dark, dusty cocoons.

The unveilings will take place at 152 institutions nationwide, reaching both big cities and small towns. Each institution will conduct an unveiling celebration involving the public, schools and local media.

The Astrophysics Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate supports the International Year of Astronomy Great Observatories image unveiling. The project is a collaboration among the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., the Spitzer Science Center in Pasadena, Calif., and the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass.

A list of places exhibiting these images can be found at:

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov
Donna Weaver 410-338-4493 / Ray Villard 410-338-4514
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
dweaver@stsci.edu / villard@stsci.edu
Megan Watzke 617-496-7998
Chandra X-ray Center, Cambridge, Mass.
mwatzke@cfa.harvard.edu
ssc2009-20
jpl2009-162