This Enormous 187-Million-Pixel Map Of The Milky Way Reveals Our Place in the Cosmos

2. 27. 16 by Sarah Marquart
APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy (ATLASGAL)

A new image of the Milky Way has been released to mark the completion of the APEX Survey of the galaxy. The APEX telescope mapped the full area of the Galactic Plane visible from the southern hemisphere at submillimeter wavelengths — between infrared light and radio waves.

This is the sharpest map of its kind so far.

ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck
Studying the Galaxy

The new ATLASGAL maps cover an area of sky 140 degrees long and 3 degrees wide, more than four times larger than the first ATLASGAL release. This includes most of the regions of star formation in the southern Milky Way. The new maps are also of higher quality, as some areas were re-observed to obtain a more uniform data quality over the whole survey area.

The 12-meter APEX telescope, which is located on the Chajnantor Plateau in Chile’s Atacama region, allowed astronomers the opportunity to study the cold Universe: gas and dust only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero. The sensitive instruments used by the APEX allow it to provide a detailed view of the distribution of cold dense gas along the plane of the Milky Way galaxy.

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The Large Bolometer Camera (LABOCA) for example, measures incoming radiation by registering the tiny rise in temperature it causes on its detectors. The instrument can detect emission from the cold dark dust bands obscuring the stellar light.

A Transformational View
This comparison shows the central regions of the Milky Way observed at different wavelengths. Via ESO

ESO considers the ATLASGAL survey to be “the single most successful APEX large program with nearly 70 associated science papers already published. Its legacy will expand much further with all the reduced data products now available to the full astronomical community.”

The new release of ATLASGAL complements observations from ESA’s Planck and Herschel satellites“ATLASGAL provides exciting insights into where the next generation of high-mass stars and clusters form. By combining these with observations from Planck, we can now obtain a link to the large-scale structures of giant molecular clouds,” remarks Timea Csengeri from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR), Bonn, Germany, who led the work of combining the APEX and Planck data.

Leonardo Testi from ESO, who is a member of the ATLASGAL team and the European Project Scientist for the ALMA project, concludes: “ATLASGAL has allowed us to have a new and transformational look at the dense interstellar medium of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. The new release of the full survey opens up the possibility to mine this marvellous dataset for new discoveries. Many teams of scientists are already using the ATLASGAL data to plan for detailed ALMA follow-up.”

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