Planck Satellite Creates Sky Map Revealing Massive Loop and Dust Ring

First Posted: Jul 07, 2015 12:39 PM EDT

Scientists have created a map of the sky with the help of the Planck satellite, revealing a ring of dust that's 200 light-years across and a loop that covers a third of the sky.

The ESA Planck satellite was first launched in 2009 to study the ancient light of the Big Bang, the beginnings of our universe. This satellite, though, has also given us maps of our Milky Way galaxy in microwaves. Microwaves are generated by electrons spiraling in the galaxy's magnetic field at nearly the speed of light.

The new maps show regions covering huge areas of our sky that produce "anomalous" microwave emission (AME). In fact, this process could account for a large amount of galactic microwave emissions with a wavelength near 1 cm. One example where it's exceptionally bright is the 200 light year-wide dust ring around the Lambda Orionis nebula, which is the "head" of the familiar Orion constellation.

A wide field map also showed synchrotron loops and spurs, where charged particles spiral around magnetic fields. This includes the huge Loop 1, which was discovered more than 50 years ago. With that said, astronomers are still uncertain about its distance away, which makes it almost impossible to determine how large it is.

That said, the latest maps are huge when it comes to better understanding our galaxy. The maps show that the relative strength of the processes occurring in our galaxy and how they change with wavelength.

The findings are published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

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