A view of the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. Depositphotos.

A “Star Factor” at the Heart of the Milky Way Galaxy

Nearly 150 images of the Milky Way's central region were taken (in the infrared bands J, H, and Ks) by the HAWK-I infrared camera at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory, covering a total area of 64,000 square light-years around its center.

Observations of young stars in our home galaxy’s central regions have provided astronomers with the first glimpse of their abundance. As a result of the observations, scientists have a better understanding of how star formation in the galactic center began near the center and then spread outwards. As a result, we have confirmed a star formation mode that was previously found in other, far away galaxies. Furthermore, the results indicate that most stars formed in that region not in dense clusters but rather in loose associations whose members have long since split up.

Compared with other parts of the Milky Way galaxy, the central region of ours is much denser with stars. In many other galaxies, rapid star formation occurs during the earliest billions of years of cosmic history, and astronomers have long been hoping this will provide them with a laboratory for studying it. However, these stars are notoriously difficult to observe because of the crowding in the central region.

Based on a high-resolution infrared survey, a new analysis published in Nature Astronomy attempts to reconstruct the history of star formation in the galactic central region for the first time. The data also reveal that most young stars in the galactic center don’t form in tightly-knit massive clusters but rather in loose stellar associations that disperse over time.

Compared with other galaxies, our Milky Way isn’t very productive. Each year, our home galaxy forms a few solar masses worth of new stars. The so-called “starburst galaxies” are much more effective: They can produce tens to hundreds of solar masses worth of stars per year during brief episodes that last a few million years. In general, galaxies produced tens of solar masses per year 10 billion years ago.

Milky Way properties are frequently used by astronomers to study galaxy properties. We can study processes and properties in detail up close because we have a ring-side view of the Milky Way galaxy. As the Milky Way is a low-star-formation galaxy, you might think the recipe-study local events that also occur in distant galaxies-won’t work for high-productivity star formation. Nevertheless, you would be wrong: Over the past 100 million years, star formation rates in our galaxy’s central regions have been ten times higher than average around our galaxy’s black hole. In terms of productivity, the core of our galaxy is nearly as productive as the cores of starburst galaxies or hyper-productive galaxies from 10 billion years ago.

Nearly 150 images of the Milky Way’s central region were taken (in the infrared bands J, H, and Ks) by the HAWK-I infrared camera at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory, covering a total area of 64,000 square light-years around its center.

In the (false-color) GALACTICNUCLEUS survey images, the researchers noticed that Sagittarius B1 was different from the other regions in the galactic center. In comparison with other regions, it contains a disproportionate amount of young stars, which ionise the surrounding gas – an effect that was not unexpected: Light characteristics of hydrogen gas ionized by hot stars had previously indicated this.

Read more about it here.


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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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