On January 26, the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) released images of the heart of the Milky Way taken using its radio telescope, MeerKAT. MeerKAT captures radio waves using 64 antennae spread over almost five miles, and it’s the most sensitive telescope of its kind. A radio telescope like MeerKAT was necessary to take these images because only radio waves can penetrate through the dust between Earth and the center of our galaxy.
The blood-red, horizontal splotches show the Milky Way in radio waves, as observed by MeerKAT. The bright yellow spot in the middle is the black hole that sits at the center of our galaxy. That brightness represents a high concentration of radio emissions from material spiraling into the black hole, says Fernando Camilo, the chief scientist at SARAO. Until very recently, scientists weren’t certain about the existence of black holes. Now they are well-known for sucking up everything in their path, and researchers also recently discovered black holes can create new stars.
The Jackson-Pollack-like red streaks are non-thermal filaments (NTFs), magnetized strands that can’t be found anywhere else in the galaxy. Camilo says researchers previously knew of maybe up to 100 NTFs, but with the new MeerKAT images, they now know of over a thousand.
“You would study each of them as like a curiosity,” Camilo says. ”Now…you can start studying them as a population.”