NASA's Swift Satellite Produces Amazing Maps of Nearest Galaxies [PHOTO]

By iScienceTimes Staff on June 5, 2013 11:02 AM EDT

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Astronomers have created high-resolution maps of Earth's two nearest galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds. Above, the Large Magellanic Cloud. (Photo: NASA)

Astronomers from NASA and Pennsylvania State University have created the most detailed images ever of Earth's two nearest galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds. The galaxies, made up of the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud, are 163,000 and 200,000 light years away, respectively, and can be viewed with the naked eye.

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The astronomers made the stunning mosaics with photos from Swift, a satellite that views the galaxies in different wavelengths. In this case, ultraviolet light was used to create the images, because of the "light pollution" when using regular visible light: the combination of light from the stars would outshine young stars and stars being born. By using ultraviolet light, all stars are dimmed making it easier to see them all.

"We took thousands of images and assembled them into seamless portraits of the main body of each galaxy, resulting in the highest-resolution surveys of the Magellanic Clouds at ultraviolet wavelengths," said Stefan Immler of NASA.

On Monday, during the 222nd meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Immler unveiled a 160-megapixel mosaic of the Large Magellanic Cloud and a 57-megapixel mosaic of the Small Magellanic Cloud. The images show roughly 1 million ultraviolet sources in the LMC and about 250,000 in the SMC.

Both mosaics were compiled from many, many images: the LMC mosaic is composed of 2,200 images, and the SMC is made of 656 images. The images for the LMC mosaic had a cumulative exposure of 5.4 days

Prior to the creation of these new images, says Michael Siegel, lead scientist for Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope at Penn State's Swift Mission Operations Center, "there were relatively few UV observations of these galaxies, and none at high resolution across such wide areas, so this project fills in a major missing piece of the scientific puzzle."

"With these mosaics," said Immler, "we can study how stars are born and evolve across each galaxy in a single view, something that's very difficult to accomplish for our own galaxy because of our location inside it."

Click here for a very large version of the LMC image, and here for one of the SMC.

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