The Evolving Universe

Smithsonian Institution

Peeling Back The Layers I

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The multi-colored image of the galactic center consists of three images taken with different telescopes that detect radiation—energy emitted as waves or particles—that we normally cannot see.

  1. X-ray radiation—light with higher energy than the light we can see—shows us super-hot objects at the galactic center. These include star explosions and supermassive black holes.
  2. Light in the near-infrared range—just beyond the visible color red—shows energetic regions where stars are forming amid hundreds of thousands of other stars.
  3. Infrared light has less energy than visible light and shows us cold objects, such as the nebulae that will form future stars.

Clouds of dust and gas partially block our view of our galaxy's center, but other types of radiation penetrate this “cosmic crud”. Telescopes that detect X-rays and infrared radiation give us a more complete view.