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

The Whole Universe

Planck_light_mapThis is a map of oldest light in our universe. It is derived from data detected with the greatest precision yet by the Planck mission. The ancient photons, also called the cosmic microwave background, give us a view of the universe when it was about 370,000 years old. The variations are related to the tiny temperature fluctuations caused by regions of slightly different densities—the seeds of all the future structure of the Universe—the stars, galaxies, and life existing today.

Planck is a European Space Agency mission with significant participation from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Image Credit: ESA

Planck’s Map of the Cosmic Microwave Background

This image of the microwave sky was synthesized using data spanning the range of cosmic background radiation detected by ESA’s Planck satellite. These frequencies, which cannot be seen with the human eye, cover the range of 30 to 857 gigahertz.

The grainy structure of the cosmic microwave background is clearly visible in the high-latitude regions of the map. The tiny temperature fluctuations are the result of the density variations from which the structure of the universe originated.

Image Credit: ESA