First 3D map of Milky Way reveals warped, twisted galaxy

First 3D map of Milky Way reveals warped, twisted galaxy

First 3D map of Milky Way reveals warped, twisted galaxy

These are bright stars that pulsate periodically, allowing scientists to use them as "cosmic yardsticks" to measure objects that are far away.

The researchers gathered 2,330 Cepheid variables catalogued by an infrared telescope called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, and whittled down the list to 1,339 stars based on their distance, models of the Milky Way, and other factors.

The paper, published in Nature Astronomy on February 4, details work by Australian and Chinese astronomers to examine the classical "Cepheids" - a collection of huge, young stars in the Milky Way that can be up to 100,000 times brighter than the sun.

The light of these short-lived stars changes regularly, in day- to month-long cycles.

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What scientists in Australia and China have found looking into the Milky Way - its true shape.

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. Combined with these observations, the study's results suggest that the likely culprit for the Milky Way's warped spiral pattern is torque from the massive inner disk. Richard de Grijs from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and senior co-author of the paper. You can see their final plot in the video below, published in Nature Astronomy.

"It is notoriously hard to determine distances from the Sun to parts of the Milky Way's outer gas disk without having a clear idea of what that disk actually looks like", said Chen Xiaodian, lead author of the paper.

An artist's impression of "home".

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The team built their map using 1339 large pulsating stars each up to 100,000 brighter than our sun. That offers new insights into the formation of our home galaxy.

NAOC found that this galactic game of schoolyard bullying forms the warped S-shape of our galaxy.

Astronomers from from Macquarie University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences shared their map in the journal Nature Astronomy. Furthermore, they also fit in with observations of a handful of other galaxies that display progressively twisted spiral patterns in their outer regions.

"This research provides a crucial updated map for studies of our galaxy's stellar motions and the origins of the Milky Way's disk", says Licai Deng, senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and co-author on the paper.

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This is the mysterious invisible material that provides the gravitational "glue" that holds galaxies together. There, the hydrogen atoms making up most of the Milky Way's gas disk are no longer confined to a thin plane, instead they give the disk an S-like, or warped, appearance. We know the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy - a thin disk of a hundred billion stars that circle around a huge supermassive black hole at the galaxy's centre.

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