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April 22, 2019

Stunning new study says Milky Way is being warped and twisted

February 14, 2019
New research reveals the Milky Way galaxy is twisting. (LuCaAr / Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Here’s the latest galactic twist and turn — stars are warping the Milky Way!

A new 3D map shows the Milky Way is being molded by its billions of stars. Far away, the Milky Way looks like a thin rotating disk full of stars that orbits the center every few hundred million years. But rooted in the center is dark matter and hundreds of billions of stars affixed together to keep the galaxy as one cohesive unit.

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The spiral galaxy is composed of innumerable stars and clouds of gas that coexist in its two arms, just like our neighbor Andromeda. By using 1,339 pulsating stars as markers for the Milky Way map, researchers discovered that the galaxy’s disk of stars is continuing to twist. And the farther the stars are from the Milky Way center, the more twisted it becomes, concluded the study published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

“It is notoriously difficult 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 study author Xiaodian Chen of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

The young stars used to create the map, dubbed classical Cepheids, contain a mass between four and 20 times that of the sun and burn 100,000 times more luminously. Because of their incredible mass and brightness, they are more likely to burn through their energy quickly and die after only a few million years.

Astronomers had previously seen evidence of hydrogen clouds in the Milky Way warping — a phenomenon they had noticed before in the same pattern of twisting spirals in roughly a dozen other galaxies.

“This research provides a crucial updated map for studies of our galaxy’s stellar motions and the other origins of the Milky Way’s disk,” said Licai Deng, co-author and senior researcher of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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