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The center of the Milky Way. Click on image to learn more. Image credit: NASA/CXC/UMass Amherst/Q.D.Wang et al.

Milky Way: A Crowded Neighborhood

The center of the Milky Way is a crowded neighborhood and not always a calm one, as seen in this image from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. In addition to the supermassive black hole at the center, the area is filled with all sorts of different inhabitants that affect and influence one another.

The image shows three massive star clusters: the Arches (upper right), Quintuplet (upper center), and the GC star cluster (bottom center), which is near the enormous black hole known as Sagittarius A. The massive stars in these clusters can themselves be very bright, point-like X-ray sources, when winds blowing off their surfaces collide with winds from an orbiting companion star. The stars in these clusters also release vast amounts of energy when they reach the ends of their lives and explode as supernovas, which, in turn, heat the material between the stars. The stars near the Galactic Center also can emit X-rays as stellar corpses — either in the form of neutron stars or black holes in binary systems — and are also seen as point-like sources in the Chandra image.

Image credit: NASA/CXC/UMass Amherst/Q.D.Wang et al.

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