NASA’s latest image of the Milky Way is two decades in the making.
The dramatic view of the heart of the galaxy combines 370 observations taken over a period of 20 years and features billions of stars.
“What we see in the picture is a violent or energetic ecosystem in our galaxy’s downtown,” astronomer Daniel Wang of the University of Massachusetts Amherst told the Associated Press.
“There are a lot of supernova remnants, black holes, and neutron stars there. Each X-ray dot or feature represents an energetic source, most of which are in the center.”
Wang created the composite photograph while working from home over the past year, according to CNN, combining data from the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory and the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa.
He published the resulting image and his associated findings in the journal.
The stunning photograph shows hot gas streaming out of regions near Sagittarius A*, a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy some 26,000 light years away.
Wang believes this is evidence of a magnetic field reconnection event, when two opposing magnetic fields collide and combine, expelling large amounts of energy. It’s believed to be the same phenomena that triggers solar flares and the Northern Lights.
The Milky Way, a spiral galaxy, formed about 13.51 billion years ago. Observing the galactic center is difficult because it is surrounded by a thick fog of dust and gas, but the new photo reveals a interstellar tapestry of gas and magnetic fields.
“The galaxy is like an ecosystem,” Wang explained. “We know the centers of galaxies are where the action is and play an enormous role in their evolution.”
See more views of the galactic center below.