Snakes on a galactic plane: First scan of ‘space between the stars’ in Milky Way looks like a writhing nest of vipers

The Greeks and Romans looked at the skies and saw animals and gods – but the first picture of the gas ‘between the stars’ in our own galaxy looks more like a pit of writhing snakes.

To most people, the idea that space could be filled with thin, churning gas is distinctly odd – but astronomers have been trying to photograph the ‘turbulent gas’ for 30 years.

‘This is the first time anyone has been able to make a picture of this,’ said Professor Bryan Gaensler of the University of Sydney, Australia.

This turbulence makes the universe magnetic, helps stars form, and spreads the heat from supernova explosions through the galaxy, said the study, published in Nature today.

Gaensler and his team studied a region of our galaxy about 10,000 light-years away in the southern constellation Norma. They used an Australian radio telescope – the Telescope Compact Array – to ‘watch’ radio waves from the Milky Way.

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