The Milky Way streaks horizontally across this new map, created by researchers looking for neutral hydrogen. The different colors represent hydrogen moving at different velocities relative to Earth. The large blob towards the bottom right is the Magellanic Clouds, two smaller galaxies that orbit the Milky Way. Credit: Benjamin Winkel, Max Planck Institute, and the HI4PI collaboration
What does the water in your glass have in common with the Sun? Though one is a massive explosion at the center of our Solar System, and the other is a refreshing drink, both share one basic building block: hydrogen.
This remarkable, very light element is the most abundant element in the Universe. It’s just about everywhere we look, which makes it incredibly valuable not only as a potential fuel source, and one of the fundamental components of water but also as a beacon for where masses of stars, nebulae, and planets exist in the vastness of space.
In a paper published in the Astronomy and Astrophysics Journal researchers announced that they had managed to create the most detailed map of our Milky Way by painstakingly mapping out all of the neutral hydrogen in our small corner of the universe. The resulting map, called HI4PI, covers an area that encompasses the Milky Way as well as our galactic neighbors, small galaxies called the Magellanic Clouds, which orbit our own galaxy.
Researchers pinpointed the location of hydrogen clouds throughout the galaxy by spending thousands of hours logging the sky on two different telescopes. The two telescopes used to create the map are located in Germany and Australia. Having a telescope in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres allowed researchers to create a map of the entire sky that we see on Earth.
“The result of this research is a much more comprehensive map of our galaxy that will allow scientists to better understand the Milky Way and our galactic neighbors,” said DJ Pisano, an astrophysicist who worked on the project. “This is a landmark for the field of astrophysics that will bring new insights for decades to come.”