Astrophysicists map out the light energy contained within the Milky Way

Milky Way

An all-sky image of the Milky Way, as observed by the Planck Space Observatory in infrared. The data contained in this image were used in this research and were essential in calculating the distribution of the light energy of our Galaxy.
(Credit: ESA / HFI / LFI consortia)

28 July 2017

We’ve always been fascinated by the stars. Our creation stories, myths and legends are full of references, and our poets and storytellers constantly evoke their wonder - such as Irish poet Thomas Moore:

"By cloudless starlight on he treads, And thinks no lamp so cheering, As the light which Heaven sheds."

But how much light do these heavenly lamps actually emit? Scientists at the University of Central Lancashire, with colleagues in Romania and Germany, set out to find out – as part of wider work to understand how stars and galaxies form and evolve. Using novel computer calculations they set out to track all the photons in our Galaxy, including not only visible “light” but photons emitted as heat from the clouds of interstellar dust. After comparing their predictions with latest satellite images, the team believes they have found the answer. The full research is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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