The Milky Way never looked so beautifully detailed thanks to scientists from the national and international community. The map was based on hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe. The map was made using data from the 100m Max-Planck Radio Telescope in Germany and the Parkes Observatory in Australia.  Astrophysics needed about 2,000 hours of work to create the map.

The study was published Thursday in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics journal, and the work included the efforts of astrophysicist from West Virginia University: D.J. Pisano. Pisano is an associate professor of physics and astronomy in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. The international collaboration between the U.S. with Germany, Australia, Japan, and the UK was essential to elaborate the impressive map.

The image colors reflect gas at differing velocities. The plane of the Milky Way runs horizontally across the middle of the image. The Magellanic Clouds can be seen at the lower right. Image Credit: Inverse

The new Milky Way map reveals unique details about our galaxy. Tracking hydrogen -the main element in space- allowed scientists to map the periodic element’s distribution across the galaxy that contains our solar system.  

To gathered data about the Milky Way, the team used two of the world’s largest steerable telescopes: Parkes Observatory in Australia and the Effelsberg 100m Radio Telescope in Germany. Both telescopes are highly sensitive due to their size and their technical features, which allows them to see deep into space.

The Milky Way survey is called the HI4PI and it is pronounced “hi four pie.” It refers to the astrophysical abbreviation for neutral hydrogen (HI) and the geometrical reference to the whole sky (4PI), according to the West Virginia University.

The HI4PI survey used clouds of hydrogen to collect data at full resolution. The HI4PI made it possible to study all directions of the sky and allowed scientists to learn more about the physics and the structures of the areas they studied.

International cooperation: The new Milky Way map was possible thanks to team work around the world

Two telescopes were necessary because scientists had to survey both the northern and the southern hemispheres. The team in Germany had to analyze a significant part of the data collected by the 100m Radio Telescope and the team in Australia worked with the information gathered by the Parkes Observatory.

Pisano admits that without international cooperation, the scope of the survey could not have been done.

The study required more than a million individual observations to managed collect the needed data. About 10 billion individual data points were located during the research. Only in Australia, where Pisano and members of the Galactic All-Sky Survey worked a significant part of the project, the team spent more than 2,000 hours over two years using Parkes Telescope gathered information. In Australia, the team mapped the sky south of the equator.

The new map of the galaxy is remarkably more informative than its previous version. The previous survey is called the Leiden-Argentine-Bonn and used a smaller telescope. It was published in 2004 and presented blurry or pixelated photographs.

The Parkes Observatory and the 100m Radio Telescope made it possible to see what it was thought to be invisible or hidden parts of the universe.

Source: West Virginia University