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It may not be much use to hitchhikers through the galaxy, but it is extremely valuable to astronomers: the new radio atlas of the Milky Way.
After almost ten years of work, researchers at the Max Planck Society and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have completed their investigation into the polarised radio emission in the galactic plane. The atlas is based on observations undertaken with the 25-metre radio telescope in the Chinese city of Urumqi and shows an area of 2,200 square degrees of the sky.
The radio survey covers the northern band of the Milky Way between ten and 230 degrees galactic longitude and between minus five and plus five degrees galactic latitude. The comprehensive survey shows the polarised radio emission of our galaxy at five gigahertz (corresponding to a wavelength of six centimetres) and thus at the highest frequency every recorded by terrestrial instruments.
The aim of the project was to map the large-scale magnetic field of the Milky Way. The German and Chinese researchers found a handful of peculiar clumps with very strong, regular magnetic fields (Faraday screens) and two new supernova remnants each measuring around one degree.
The new atlas needed more than 4,500 hours of observations to compile, and its angular resolution is similar to that of the 21-cm wavelength survey of the Milky Way obtained at the 100-metre radio telescope at Effelsberg. The comparative analysis of these two large-scale sky surveys at similar angular resolution leads to a better understanding of the processes occurring in the interstellar medium.