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The best ever images of the Milky Way

The Science and Technology Facilities Council in the UK reports that an international team of more than 50 astronomers from Europe, the U.S. and Australia has released the largest digital survey of the Milky Way, composed of some 200 million unique stellar objects. The IPHAS (INT Photometric H-alpha Survey of the Northern Galactic Plane) will soon include 800 million objects. And this survey will be available from a Virtual Observatory interface allowing an easy access to all the Milky Way stars and other objects. Read more to look at stunning pictures...

The Science and Technology Facilities Council in the UK reports that an international team of more than 50 astronomers from Europe, the U.S. and Australia has released the largest digital survey of the Milky Way, composed of some 200 million unique stellar objects. The IPHAS (INT Photometric H-alpha Survey of the Northern Galactic Plane) will soon include 800 million objects. And this survey will be available from a Virtual Observatory interface allowing an easy access to all the Milky Way stars and other objects. Read more to look at stunning pictures...

Dust Lanes in the Rosette Nebula

Let's start with this extraordinary image of dust lanes in the Rosette Nebula. "This is an excerpt from Nick Wright's mosaic of the entire Rosette Nebula, built as the IC 1396B image. The centre of this HII region, where the exciting star cluster (NGC 2244) is located, lies at the middle-bottom of this image (N is to the left, and E down). The longer dimension in this image is approximately 30 arcminutes." (Image based on data obtained as part of the IPHAS project and prepared by Nick Wright, University College London) Here is a link to a larger version of this picture (1.82 MB).

A newly discovered planetary nebula

And this is another spectacular image of a newly discovered planetary nebula. (Image based on data obtained as part of the IPHAS project and prepared by Nick Wright, University College London) Here is a link to a larger version. You can see other images prepared by Nick Wright, a PhD student in the Astrophysics Group at University College London in this gallery of Astronomical Images from the IPHAS Survey. You can see other images produced by IPHAS by watching this gallery.

In the news release of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, Janet Drew, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Hertfordshire, said 'Using the distinctive Hydrogen marker we are able to look at some of the least understood stars in the Galaxy – those at the early and very late stages of their life cycles. These represent less than one in a thousand stars, so the IPHAS data will greatly improve our picture of stellar evolution.'"

Obviously, all the data from the survey by IPHAS will be available from its website. It will also be available from the Virtual Observatory interface. "The Virtual Observatory is an international initiative aimed at providing standard access to the world’s global data resources. All systems conform to agreed interoperability standards defined by the International Virtual Observatory Alliance. A leading Virtual Observatory project is the AstroGrid, a UK government funded, open source project designed to create a working Virtual Observatory (VO) for UK and international astronomers."

Here is another comment from Nicholas Walton, a project scientist at the Institute of Astronomy of the University of Cambridge. "Using the standard Virtual Observatory interface is a very effective way of exploiting the IPHAS survey data. This is a substantial and significant survey, which aims to eventually contain 7-800 million objects. Access through the AstroGrid Virtual Observatory opens up a full range of analysis options and should allow astronomers to make greater use of the information. IPHAS is the largest dataset published primarily through Virtual Observatory interfaces to date, and as such heralds the future of survey data mining."

This research work should soon be published by the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. In the mean time, you can read a paper about the "Initial Data Release from the INT Photometric H-alpha Survey of the Northern Galactic Plane (IPHAS)," thanks to arXiv.org. Here are the links to the abstract and to the full paper.

Sources: Science and Technology Facilities Council news release, December 10, 2007; and various websites

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