The Heart of the Galaxy

This image resembles red ink filtering through water or a crackling stream of electricity, but it is actually a view of our cosmic home. It’s the central plane of the Milky Way as seen by ESA’s Planck satellite and the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) operated at an altitude of around 5100m in the Chilean Andes by the European Southern Observatory. While APEX is best at viewing small patches of sky in great detail, Planck data is ideal for studying areas of sky at the largest scales. The two data sets complement each other and offer a unique perspective on the sky.

The bright pockets scattered along the galactic plane this view are compact sources of submillimetre radiation: very cold, clumpy, dusty regions that may are being studied for information on multiple questions ranging from how individual stars form to how the entire Universe is structured. From right to left, notable sources include NGC 6334 (the rightmost bright patch), NGC 6357 (just to the left of NGC 6334), the galactic core itself (the central, most extended, and brightest patch in this image), M8 (the bright lane branching from the plane to the bottom left), and M20 (visible to the upper left of M8).

Image Credit: ESA / ESO

Making Planets

ALMA image of the protoplanetary disc around HL TauriThis image from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array at the European Souther Observatory in Chile reveals extraordinarily fine detail that has never been seen before in the planet-forming disc around a young star, in this case, HL Tauri. This is one of the sharpest pictures ever made at submillimetre wavelengths. It’s an enormous step forward in the observation of how protoplanetary discs develop and how planets form.

HL Tauri’s disc appears much more developed than would be expected from the age of the system, suggesting that the planet-formation process may be faster than previously thought. Young stars are born in clouds of gas and fine dust which have collapsed under the effects of gravitation. The dense hot cores eventually ignite to become young stars. These young stars are initially cocooned in the remaining gas and dust, which eventually settles into a protoplanetary disc.

Image Credit: ESO