The Infrared Sky
This is a panoramic view of the enire sky (rendered in an Aitoff
projection). Not produced directly from the 2MASS sky images, this view
has been compiled from star counts in the 2MASS point source database.
Each color represents the local density of stars seen in each of the 3
infrared bands in the survey. Almost 100 million stars appear here,
going down to Ks magnitudes as faint as 13.5.
Most prominent in the image is the high density of stars along the disk
of our Milky Way Galaxy, peaking up at the bulge at its very center.
The plane is cut by dark dust lanes and clouds. In visible light, the
dust lanes are much more prominent, blocking our view of a substantial
part of the Galactic Plane; here, only the very densest dust clouds
remain, obscuring the stars and reducing the star counts. Many features
are visible including the dusty regions around Orion (on the far right,
just below the plane).
The two companion galaxies to the Milky Way, the Large and Small
Magellanic Clouds, are very obvious in the lower half of this image.
The large number of stars they contain cause them to show up with high contrast
in these star count maps. Note in particular the prominent bar and incipient
spiral structure of the Large Cloud which can be difficult to discern
in direct images of the region.
The starlike objects in this map are actually globular clusters
that appear "bright" because they have so many stars in very compact
areas. Most prominent is the globular cluster 47 Tucanae, just to the
left of the Small Magellanic cloud. Another striking feature is the
"finger" of stars cutting almost north-south through the lower left
side of the Galactic bulge. These stars belong to the dwarf Sagittarius
galaxy, another satellite of the Milky Way that is in the process of
merging with it.