Published: Thu, February 07, 2019
Science | By Michele Flores

The Milky Way Is Totally Twisted

The Milky Way Is Totally Twisted

Instead, it becomes increasingly "warped" and twisted far away from the Milky Way's center, according to astronomers from National Astronomical Observatories of Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC).

This is where hundreds of billions of stars can be found - together with a huge mass of dark matter.

Astronomers looked at data from the WISE survey of infrared stars and noted that it contained a large sample of Cepheids.

Classical Cepheids are young stars that are some four to 20 times as massive as the sun and up to 100,000 times as bright. The distances of the stars were then used as markers to help map out the rest of the galaxy, even its distant outer regions. These are bright stars that pulsate periodically, allowing scientists to use them as "cosmic yardsticks" to measure objects that are far away.

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Without accurate measures of the distance between the sun and stars in the Milky Way's outer regions, it's hard to determine the precise shape of the galaxy and its gas disk. However, the hydrogen gas appears to warp more than the stars do, specifically on one of the disk's sides.

A team of astronomers from the Macquarie University in Australia and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have mapped out the Milky Way using 1,339 "standard stars".

The 1,339 stars are all Cepheid variables, a type of pulsating star whose intrinsic brightness depends on how long it takes to vary from bright to dim and back again. "This offers new insights into the formation of our home galaxy", said Richard de Grijs, a professor at Macquarie University. "Perhaps more importantly, in the Milky Way's outer regions, we found that the S-like stellar disk is warped in a progressively twisted spiral pattern", de Grijs added. You can see their final plot in the video below, published in Nature Astronomy. Just like a goldfish can't see its bowl from the outside, our position in the universe means we can't see our home galaxy, the Milky Way, as the rest of the universe sees it. These stars providing high distance accuracy were used as primary distance indicators to develop an intuitive and accurate three-dimensional picture of the galaxy. They have found that the Milky Way is not exactly as artist's impressions might have you believe - it's actually twisted and warped, bending at the edges. Furthermore, they also fit in with observations of a handful of other galaxies that display progressively twisted spiral patterns in their outer regions.

"So the massive inner disk's rotational force causes the outer disk to warp, the researchers concluded."This research provides a crucial updated map for studies of our galaxy's stellar motions and the origins of the Milky Way's disk", said Licai Deng, co-author and senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in a statement".

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