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Combined 2MASS-MSX View of the Galactic Center

2MASS Picture of the Week

The Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS) is surveying the entire sky in the near-infrared from Mt. Hopkins and Cerro Tololo. The cameras on the two automated 1.3-m telescopes observe in three channels, J (1.25 µm), H (1.65 µm), and Ks (2.17 µm), simultaneously, using 256 × 256 HgCdTe detector arrays, sampling the sky in 6° × 8.3´ strips. Coadded images, with 7.8-s total integration, are produced from six dithered frames, after rebinning to 1´´ pixels. The 2MASS Production Processing System provides final Atlas Images and source extractions with precise photometric calibration and astrometric positions, with 10 sensitivities of 15.8 mag at J, 15.1 at H, and 14.3 at Ks.

The Spatial Infrared Imaging Telescope, SPIRIT III, was the primary instrument for gathering mid-infrared data during the Midcourse Space Experiment (MSX) mission. SPIRIT III is a 33-cm aperture, high off-axis rejection telescope with a five-color, high-spatial resolution (18´´), 4.2 to 26 µm multi-spectral radiometer and a six-channel, 2.5 to 28 µm Fourier transform spectrometer.

One of the main targets for MSX and a fascinating target for 2MASS is the Galactic Center. This image is a composite of 2MASS J (blue), Ks (green), and MSX Band A (6 - 11 µm; red) imaging of this region, and is 2° in galactic latitude by 5° in galactic longitude. (The 2MASS image mosaic has been binned to 2´´ × 2´´ pixels.) The Galactic plane runs horizontally along the image, and the Galactic center is the bright (yellow) object near the middle. The infrared can peer through the dense obscuring dust that hides the Galactic center in the optical. The near-infrared is sensitive to the photospheric emission from the very large number of, particularly cooler, stars seen toward this region, and also gives us a glimpse of the mass of stars and gas that comprise the very center of the Milky Way. The mid-infrared is ideal for measuring the thermal emission from the cool dust in nebular ionized (H II) regions and molecular clouds, producing the extended clumpy and filamentary emission surrounding the center. Although MSX Band A is still sensitive to stellar emission, the cool extended emission becomes apparent, relative to the 2MASS bands, and the Galactic center becomes more obvious. Even with the penetrating power of these infrared wavelengths, however, large ``holes'' can be seen throughout the image, where no emission in any of these bands can emerge from objects behind the dark dust.

2MASS Image mosaic and 2MASS-MSX image combination by E. Kopan (IPAC). Featured as an Astronomy Picture of the Day!

N.B.: The image mosaic is 10.5 Mb! For the full-resolution 11.6-Mb version of this image, click here.

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Please note: The images in this gallery are released into the public domain. If any image or images are redisplayed or reproduced, please accompany the image or images with the following acknowledgment: "Atlas Image [or Atlas Image mosaic] obtained as part of the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS), a joint project of the University of Massachusetts and the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center/California Institute of Technology, funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation." This is the stated policy of 2MASS.

The 2MASS Picture of the Week uses the NED, SIMBAD, and ADS databases.


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