The Milky Way is warped, but astronomers still aren't sure why

Popular Science | 2/8/2019 | Staff
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Sometimes it might seem like life on Earth has taken a few bizarre twists and turns in the last few years, but if it helps you feel better, it’s not just us. In reality, the entire galaxy is bent out of shape—literally. Astronomers have created a new 3D map of the Milky Way galaxy, and in a new paper published in Nature Astronomy, illustrate that the galaxy as a whole has a warped structure, progressively twisting out into a spiral.

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Surprise - Decades - Astronomers - Pattern - Hydrogen

This isn’t exactly the biggest surprise. For decades, astronomers have observed a twisting pattern of hydrogen gas out in the far reaches of the galaxy. But since that gas layer extends so far out, it was never really clear whether individual stellar bodies in the galaxy were exhibiting the same kind of warping, and whether there was a consistent warp throughout the Milky Way.

This new 3D map wasn’t even intended to trace the galaxy’s warp. “Most science is serendipitous,” says Richard de Grijs, an astronomer based at Macquarie University in Sydney, and a coauthor of the new study. It was his former graduate student, lead author Xiaodian Chen, now at the National Astronomical Observatories of Chinese Academy of Sciences, who had previously compiled a large collection of observations of over 50,000 stars in the galaxy, particularly in infrared. Chen decided to use observations of the Cepheids—a class of young, bright, pulsating stars—to attempt to outline the shape of the Milky Way.

Cepheids - Investigation - Distance - Space - Period

The Cepheids are particularly useful for any astronomical investigation requiring you to trace distance through outer space. They show period changes in brightness over time, and measuring the cycles in those brightness can basically tell you the distance between two points down to an incredibly accurate scale. And since dust and gas doesn’t absorb much of the light on...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Popular Science
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