This extraordinary new picture (published in the Melbourne Herald Sun, August
18 2005) is a computer generated image of our galaxy - The Milky Way - based on
millions of new observations by a NASA orbiting space telescope. It is shown
as it would appear to an imaginary observer trillions of kilometres away.
The arrow shows the rough location of our solar system, about two-thirds from
the galaxy's centre.
The Milky Way is a disc-shaped galaxy, home to about 200 to 400 BILLION stars
(suns) in spiral arms separated by dust and gas clouds.
Astronomers found 50 million new stars hidden by the dust and used their
position to construct a detailed map of the central Milky Way.
It was believed the Milky Way was a simple spiral galaxy. Instead, it has a
large, thin bar - as seen in the centre of this picture - made of billions of
relatively old dim red stars, spanning the middle of the galaxy which is about
At the heart of the galaxy lurks a monster - a huge black hole, thought to
weigh as much as ONE MILLION SUNS.
NASA astronomer Prof. Ed Churchwell said the bar might be a corridor down which
matter falls into the black hole.