Ever since astronomers first laid their eyes on the sparkling spiral arms of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, they have wondered what processes might drive the evolution of these massive, star-studded structures. Presumably, those same processes are why we see such a stunning diversity of galactic neighborhoods in the observable universe, which contains an estimated 2 trillion galaxies with unique sizes, shapes and compositions.
So, in an effort to further our understanding of galactic evolution, over 100 astronomers from over 80 institutions around the world have called for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to conduct a multi-epoch, large-area, multi-wavelength survey of the Milky Way’s innermost regions. Decoding the dynamics of the Milky Way’s heart, or Galactic Center (GC), should shed light on what happens in many other galaxies in our universe, too.
While the Milky Way
’s Galactic Center is one of the most studied regions in the night sky, a number of its astronomical mysteries persist.
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For instance, scientists wonder, what role does the supermassive black hole sitting in our galaxy’s center, Sagittarius A*, plays in its evolution? Why is our galaxy’s star formation slower than it should be in cold, dark molecular clouds in the area? How do our galaxy’s central star clusters emerge in the first place?
Why the JWST?
“The center of our galaxy is challenging to observe for two reasons,” Adam Ginsburg, an astronomer from the University of Florida who co-authored the white paper, told Space.com.
For one, Ginsburg says, the Galactic Center is full of stars. It’s so dense, in fact, that smaller telescopes struggle to tell one star from another. Plus, our view of the Galactic Center from Earth is obstructed by large clouds of dust.
“JWST solves both of these problems,” Ginsburg explained, “because it’s a big telescope, it has excellent resolution and can separate…