See a Stunning New View of the Milky Way

Astronomers stitched together more than 700 maps to create the most detailed image ever of our galaxy from the Southern Hemisphere.

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This stunning image shows the full view of the Milky Way from the Southern Hemisphere.

Scientists stitched together the enormous image from more than 700 observations by the APEX telescope in Chile’s Atacama Desert. It reveals finer details of the galaxy than seen in earlier images, including most of the places where new stars are born—such as the mysterious Galactic Center—and cold regions where dust and gas hover mere fractions of a degree above absolute zero.

The image is also the first to image our galaxy’s southern half in sub-millimeter wavelengths—light between infrared and radio waves. By combining views using different wavelengths of light, scientists add extra layers of detail. Here, the new telescope data shows up in red against an infrared background image—rendered in blue—from an earlier scan by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite.

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This comparison shows the central regions of the Milky Way observed at different wavelengths. In order from the top: sub-millimeter radiation, captured by APEX; infrared; near-infrared; and visible light, the most familiar way to visualize our galaxy.

Since we live in the Milky Way, our view of the galaxy from Earth is edge-on from the inside, so it appears as a band all the way across the sky. Skywatchers usually refer to this band as the Milky Way, but actually all the stars we see in the night sky are part of the galaxy.  

The European Southern Observatory released the new view of our home galaxy to mark the completion of the telescope’s Large Area Survey of the Galaxy, a name that lives up to the vastness of the project’s task: The data for this image alone took more than 400 hours of telescope time over three years to collect.