A group of Latin American astronomers found two “extinction windows” in the Milky Way. That is two areas of the galaxy with little interstellar material, such as gas and dust, through which you can look at the other end of the galaxy.
The work, published in the latest edition of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, was carried out by Roberto Saito, an astronomer at the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil, and by Dante Minniti, an astronomer at the Andres Bello University and a researcher at the CATA Center of Excellence in Astrophysics in Chile.
“It’s a discovery that has got us very excited because we’ve been mapping our galaxy in the infrared for 10 years. We were able to see these windows which are very hard to find. And through them we can see much beyond our own galaxy,” Minniti said.
The “extinguishing windows” are areas of the Milky Way with little gas and dust, which let in the light of the most distant stars. Similar to when, on a cloudy day, a window opens between the clouds and lets the sun’s rays pass through.
The project, called Vista Variables in the Via Lactea (VVV), was carried out through the VISTA telescope at the Cerro Paranal observatory of the European Southern Observatory – ESO – in Antofagasta, Chile. This focused on the central region of the galaxy, the most difficult to study due to its large concentrations of gas and dust clouds.
“Thanks to these windows we were able to map the spiral arms that are in the galactic antipodes, that is, on the other side of the galaxy, and that had not been seen before. We live in the Milky Way and still have very little information about it. It’s so big that we can’t go out and take a picture of it,” added the Chilean-based Argentine astronomer.
On future steps to take in the investigation, Minniti said they will focus on finding more more ‘extinction windows‘ as well as detailed studies than they have already discovered. This will allow them to conduct galactic censuses to more accurately determine how many stars are in the Milky Way.