New 3D Milky Way Map Shows We Live in Warped Galaxy

Scientists have reshaped their view of what the Milky Way looks like.

milky way
New images of the Milky Way prove we live in a warped galaxy. (Getty Images)
Getty Images

The shape of the Milky Way — our home galaxy — isn’t exactly what we’ve always assumed it was.

Instead of being a mostly flat spiral disk of stars and gas, new research by astronomers in China and Australia shows that the Milky Way is significantly warped at its edges, NBC News reported.

“We usually think of spiral galaxies as being quite flat, like Andromeda, which you can easily see through a telescope,” astronomer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and a co-author of the study, Richard de Grijs, said in a statement.

Unlike other galaxies, the Milky Way is unique in posing difficulties for scientists who’ve tried to take its picture because our solar system and all the space probes we’ve ever launched lie within it, NBC explained.

But the astronomers in the study were able to get around this problem by creating what’s being called the first accurate three-dimensional map of our galaxy via help from newly published data for a type of star known as classical Cepheids. These huge, bright stars, which are up to 20 times bigger and 100,000 times brighter than the sun, produce pulsating light that was used as a sort of cosmic yardstick to pinpoint the stars’ locations — and thus determine the overall shape of the galaxy.

“What this paper does is to trace the warp of the stars in the disk better than has been done in the past,” Heidi Jo Newberg, an astrophysicist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, told NBC News.

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