They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but this picture is worth tens of billions of stars.
And that's what we are seeing here; this is the plane of our galaxy, seen through the eyes of a powerful telescope called the Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment telescope (APEX), located high on the Chajnantor Plateau in Chile's Atacama region and managed by the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
PHOTOS: When Runaway Stars Shock Interstellar Space
The mosaic of images represents the completion of the APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy (ATLASGAL) project that imaged the entirety of the Milky Way's plane seen edge-on from APEX's Southern Hemisphere location. It is the first galactic survey in sub-millimeter wavelengths - a region of the electromagnetic spectrum between infrared and radio waves - and because of the telescope's awesome 12-meter wide aperture, astronomers can reveal far more detail in these observations than even space-based telescopes.
Be sure to check out this zoomable version of the entire ATLASGAL image, it's spectacular.
Sub-millimeter wavelengths are important to astronomers as they are generated by gas and dust only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero. Seeing our galaxy in these wavelengths can help us better understand the distribution of interstellar gas clouds that ultimately provide fuel for baby stars.
ANALYSIS: Serenity in the Milky Way
"ATLASGAL provides exciting insights into where the next generation of high-mass stars and clusters form," said Timea Csengeri from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR), Bonn, Germany, in an ESO news release. "By combining these with observations from Planck, we can now obtain a link to the large-scale structures of giant molecular clouds."
In a selection of release images, ATLASGAL is compared with data from the European Planck space observatory, surveys in visible light and views from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which sees the universe in infrared.