Source: The Gemini Observatory

Shrouded in thousands of light-years of gas and dust, the center of the Milky Way has long proved difficult to study. Data obtained during preliminary testing of the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, however, indicate that that is about to change. Gemini's advanced optics have captured the best images yet of our galaxy's elusive core, revealing surprising details about the activities taking place there.

One intriguing finding concerns a previously poorly known object in the galactic center known as IRS8. Whereas earlier images showed only an ill-defined smudge, the data from Gemini reveal IRS8 to be a star pushing through a cloud of gas and dust (right). The movement is creating a so-called bow-shock wave, much like the wave that forms in front of a boat as it moves through water. Further investigation should yield a better understanding of the cloud's properties and the conditions surrounding the star.

The Gemini North telescope is one of two eight-meter telescopes that comprise the Gemini 8-meter Observatory Project. The other, Gemini South, is located on Cerro Pach in central Chile. Together they will provide full-sky coverage after both have reached full scientific operations sometime next year.