Visit the Heart of the Milky Way in This 360-Degree, 4K Simulation (Video)

Put yourself at the center of an ever-changing Milky Way with this new immersive video, which combines NASA Ames supercomputer simulations with data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

The viewer sits at the location of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole that lurks at the Milky Way's heart. From there, it's possible to watch gas blow off of giant stars and collide with streams from other stars, sometimes providing a meal for the immense black hole lurking a few light-years away. 

Blue and cyan colors in the visualization represent X-ray emissions from low-density hot gas (reaching temperatures of tens of millions of degrees); while red identifies ultraviolet emissions from denser, cooler gas (tens of thousands of degrees); and yellow indicates emissions from the coolest gas with the highest densities, according to a statement from NASA.

You can experience the visualization yourself in the window above, and watch a narrated tour in the video below.

"A collection of X-ray-emitting gas is seen to move slowly when it is far away from Sgr A*, and then pick up speed and whip around the viewer as it comes inwards," NASA officials said in the statement. "Sometimes clumps of gas will collide with gas ejected by other stars, resulting in a flash of X-rays when the gas is heated up, and then it quickly cools down. Farther away from the viewer, the movie also shows collisions of fast stellar winds producing X-rays. These collisions are thought to provide the dominant source of hot gas that is seen by Chandra."

"When an outburst occurs from gas very near the black hole, the ejected gas collides with material flowing away from the massive stars in winds, pushing this material backwards and causing it to glow in X-rays," the statement continues. "When the outburst dies down the winds return to normal and the X-rays fade."

The video is a sequel to one released in January 2018 at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Maryland, and it also puts you at the location of Sag A*.

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory is a space telescope that circles Earth in an elliptical orbit, giving it a chance to view interstellar targets for as long as 52 hours. The spacecraft was briefly sidelined in October by a glitch in one of its orientation-maintaining gyroscopes, but now it's back to mapping the X-ray cosmos.

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Sarah Lewin
Associate Editor

Sarah Lewin started writing for in June of 2015 as a Staff Writer and became Associate Editor in 2019 . Her work has been featured by Scientific American, IEEE Spectrum, Quanta Magazine, Wired, The Scientist, Science Friday and WGBH's Inside NOVA. Sarah has an MA from NYU's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program and an AB in mathematics from Brown University. When not writing, reading or thinking about space, Sarah enjoys musical theatre and mathematical papercraft. She is currently Assistant News Editor at Scientific American. You can follow her on Twitter @SarahExplains.