To celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s invention of the telescope, NASA has released this stunning image of the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The image is the result of a collaboration between Hubble, Chandra and Spitzer, NASA’s three Great Observatories, and consists of infrared (from Spitzer) near-infrared (from Hubble) and X-ray (from Chandra) wavelengths. Combined, they create an absolutely breathtaking view of the very center of the galaxy we happen to occupy. But don’t settle for the small image above; click here to see it in all its incredible, zoomable glory.
The image shows an area of sky that’s about half the size of the moon, or 38 X 14 arcminutes across. If you look carefully, you can see the massive black hole that sits near the center of the galaxy; it is four million times the size of our sun, but still looks minuscule when compared to the entire galaxy, which is the size of 400 billion suns. Discover Magazine has an incredible description of the stunning natural space art contained in this image; but even without knowing exactly what it is you’re looking at, it’s easy to see why space has captivated us for as long as we’ve been able to look up at the night sky.