MeerKAT paints a mesmerising portrait of the Milky Way
Ever wonder what you might see if your eyes were sensitive to radio waves instead of visible light? Then check out the latest images from the 64-antenna MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa, revealing the heart of the Milky Way as as it appears in radio emissions.
The stunning imagery shows previously known and newly-discovered features, including supernova remnants, huge magnetised radio filaments and the blazing inferno surrounding the 4-million-solar-mass black hole at the core of the galaxy.
The imagery is based on detailed analysis of a survey carried out during the telescope’s commissioning, resulting in a mosaic of 20 observations captured during 200 hours of telescope time. The result is a 100-megapixel mosaic with a resolution of 4 arc seconds.
The images reveal never-before-seen supernova remnants, including a rare, almost perfectly spherical example, along with numerous stellar nurseries, cirrus-like emissions made up of many parallel radio filaments and a mesmerising view of “the mouse,” a runaway pulsar possibly ejected in a supernova blast.
At the heart of the mosaic is the supermassive black hole at the core of the Milky Way, shining like a giant red eye embedded in a vast cloud of less powerful emissions.
“I’ve spent a lot of time looking at this (mosaic) in the process of working on it, and I never get tired of it,” says Ian Heywood from the University of Oxford, Rhodes University and the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory. He’s the lead author of a study in The Astrophysical Journal.
“When I show this image to people who might be new to radio astronomy, or otherwise unfamiliar with it, I always try to emphasise that radio imaging hasn’t always been this way, and what a leap forward MeerKAT really is in terms of its capabilities,” he said. “It’s been a true privilege to work over the years with colleagues from SARAO who built this fantastic telescope.”
Isabella Rammala, a Rhodes/SARAO doctoral student, assisted with imaging and data processing.
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