A new 3D map of the Milky Way flaunts our galaxy’s warped shape
Using data from an especially bright population of stars, astronomers have reconstructed the Milky Way’s peaks and valleys like never before.
Picture: The Milky Way's population of Cepheid stars suggests that our galaxy is a twisted disk. Image Credit: J. Skowron / OGLE / Astronomical Observatory, University of Warsaw
The galaxy we live in is totally bent out of shape.
At least, that’s what the latest three-dimensional map of the Milky Way has to say. By pinpointing the locations of more than 2,400 pulsing stars—including some from the outermost edges of our galaxy—scientists have charted out a stellar atlas that might give us one of the most comprehensive portraits of the Milky Way to date.
Their findings, published today in the journal Science, reveal that the spiral galaxy we Earthlings call home isn’t the flat, featureless pancake we often make it out to be. Instead, it seems to be warped into a wave that recalls a beach towel being shaken free of sand.
The new study isn’t the first to ogle the Milky Way’s curves. But getting up close and personal with our galaxy’s warp might give us clues about its history, too—and, in doing so, give us a better sense of place in our neck of the cosmic woods.
“This is important and exciting work,” says Kathryn Johnston, an astronomer studying galactic dynamics at Columbia University who was not involved in the study. “Getting a three-dimensional map is incredibly difficult…so it’s wonderful that [the researchers] have made a global map that really allows you to look across the entire galactic disk.”