February 29th, 2016 by James Ayre
A beautiful new image of our home Galaxy, the Milky Way, was recently released to celebrate the conclusion of the APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy (ATLASGAL) — an effort to map the entire Galactic Plane, as seen from the Southern Hemisphere, at sub-millimeter wavelengths. That is to say, at wavelengths between infrared light and radio waves.
This is the most detailed map of the type made to date. The 12-meter APEX (Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment) telescope — located 5100 meters above sea level on the Chajnantor Plateau in Chile — was instrumental in the achievement.
A new press release provides more:
The ATLASGAL survey took advantage of the unique characteristics of the telescope to provide a detailed view of the distribution of cold dense gas along the plane of the Milky Way galaxy. The new image includes most of the regions of star formation in the southern Milky Way.
The new ATLASGAL maps cover an area of sky 140 degrees long and 3 degrees wide, more than 4 times larger than the first ATLASGAL release. 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.
At the heart of APEX are its sensitive instruments. One of these, LABOCA (the LArge BOlometer Camera) was used for the ATLASGAL survey. LABOCA measures incoming radiation by registering the tiny rise in temperature it causes on its detectors and can detect emission from the cold dark dust bands obscuring the stellar light.
“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,” stated Timea Csengeri from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, 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, stated: “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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