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Outback Telescope Captures Dead Stars in Milky Way’s Center

A radio telescope in the Western Australian outback has captured a spectacular new view of the center of the galaxy in which we live — the Milky Way. The image from the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope shows what our galaxy would look like if human eyes could see radio waves.

Astrophysicist Dr. Natasha Hurley-Walker, from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), created the images using the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth. She said:

The data for the research comes from the GaLactic and Extragalactic All-sky MWA survey, or “GLEAM” for short. The survey has a resolution of two arcminutes (about the same as the human eye) and maps the sky using radio waves at frequencies between 72 and 231 MHz (FM radio is near 100 MHz). Dr. Hurley-Walker said:

Using the images, Dr. Hurley-Walker and her colleagues discovered the remnants of 27 massive stars that exploded in supernovae at the end of their lives. These stars would have been eight or more times more massive than our Sun before their dramatic destruction thousands of years ago.

These are the 27 newly-discovered supernova remnants—the remains of stars that ended their lives in huge stellar explosions thousands to hundreds of thousands of years ago. The radio images trace the edges of the explosions as they continue their ongoing expansion into interstellar space. Some are huge, larger than the full moon, and others are small and hard to spot in the complexity of the Milky Way. (Image: Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker (ICRAR/Curtin) and the GLEAM Team)
These are the 27 newly-discovered supernova remnants — the remains of stars that ended their lives in huge stellar explosions thousands to hundreds of thousands of years ago. The radio images trace the edges of the explosions as they continue their ongoing expansion into interstellar space. Some are huge, larger than the full moon, and others are small and hard to spot in the complexity of the Milky Way. (Image: Dr. Natasha Hurley-Walker (ICRAR / Curtin) and the GLEAM Team)

Younger and closer supernova remnants, or those in very dense environments, are easy to spot, and 295 are already known. Unlike other instruments, the MWA can find those that are older, further away, or in very empty environments.

Dr. Hurley-Walker said one of the newly-discovered supernova remnants lies in such an empty region of space, far out of the plane of our galaxy, that despite being quite young, it is also very faint. She said:

This 28 image photomosaic captures the arch of the milky way over the Guilderton Lighthouse in Western Australia, and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. The location of a supernova that would have exploded 9,000 years ago and been visible in the night sky is shown in the image. (Image: Paean Ng / Astrordinary Imaging)
This 28 image photomosaic captures the arch of the milky way over the Guilderton Lighthouse in Western Australia, and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. The location of a supernova that would have exploded 9,000 years ago and been visible in the night sky is shown in the image. (Image: Paean Ng / Astrordinary Imaging)

An expert in cultural astronomy, Associate Professor Duane Hamacher from the University of Melbourne, said some Aboriginal traditions do describe bright new stars appearing in the sky, but we don’t know of any definitive traditions that describe this particular event, adding:

This is a 104 frame photomosaic capturing the Milky Way directly overhead taken at the Pinnacles Desert in Western Australia. A popular tourist location by day and incredible stargazing at night. The location of a supernova that would have exploded 9,000 years ago is shown in the image. (Image: Paean Ng / Astrordinary Imaging)
This is a 104 frame photomosaic capturing the Milky Way directly overhead taken at the Pinnacles Desert in Western Australia. A popular tourist location by day and incredible stargazing at night. The location of a supernova that would have exploded 9,000 years ago is shown in the image. (Image: Paean Ng / Astrordinary Imaging)

Dr. Hurley-Walker said two of the supernova remnants discovered are quite unusual “orphans,” found in a region of the sky where there are no massive stars, which means future searches across other such regions might be more successful than astronomers expected. Other supernova remnants discovered in the research are very old. She said:

The MWA telescope is a precursor to the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array, which is due to be built in Australia and South Africa from 2021. Dr. Hurley-Walker said:

The new images of the Galactic Centre can be viewed via a web browser using the GLEAMoscope app or through an android device using the GLEAM app.

Provided by: Pete Wheeler, International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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Troy Oakes
Troy was born and raised in Australia and has always wanted to know why and how things work, which led him to his love for science. He is a professional photographer and enjoys taking pictures of Australia's beautiful landscapes. He is also a professional storm chaser where he currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.

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