HST/NICMOS paschen-α survey of the galactic centre: Overview

Q. D. Wang, H. Dong, A. Cotera, S. Stolovy, M. Morris, C. C. Lang, M. P. Muno, G. Schneider, D. Calzetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


We have recently carried out the first wide-field hydrogen Paschen-α line imaging survey of the Galactic Centre using the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) instrument aboard the Hubble Space Telescope. The survey maps out a region of) around the central supermassive black hole (Sgr A*) in the 1.87 and 1.90 μm narrow bands with a spatial resolution of ∼0.01 pc (0.2 arcsec full width at half-maximum) at a distance of 8 kpc. Here, we present an overview of the observations, data reduction, preliminary results and potential scientific implications, as well as a description of the rationale and design of the survey. We have produced mosaic maps of the Paschen-α line and continuum emission, giving an unprecedentedly high-resolution and high-sensitivity panoramic view of stars and photoionized gas in the nuclear environment of the Galaxy. We detect a significant number of previously undetected stars with Paschen-α in emission. They are most likely massive stars with strong winds, as confirmed by our initial follow-up spectroscopic observations. About half of the newly detected massive stars are found outside the known clusters (Arches, Quintuplet and Central). Many previously known diffuse thermal features are now resolved into arrays of intriguingly fine linear filaments indicating a profound role of magnetic fields in sculpting the gas. The bright spiral-like Paschen-α emission around Sgr A* is seen to be well confined within the known dusty torus. In the directions roughly perpendicular to it, we further detect faint, diffuse Paschen-α emission features, which, like earlier radio images, suggest an outflow from the structure. In addition, we detect various compact Paschen-α nebulae, probably tracing the accretion and/or ejection of stars at various evolutionary stages. Multiwavelength comparisons together with follow-up observations are helping us to address such questions as where and how massive stars form, how stellar clusters are disrupted, how massive stars shape and heat the surrounding medium, how various phases of this medium are interspersed and how the supermassive black hole interacts with its environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)895-902
Number of pages8
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010


  • Circumstellar matter
  • Galaxy: centre
  • Infrared: stars
  • Stars: formation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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