The Milky Way in a twist

The Milky Way is being warped and twisted study says	 	 	 			Getty Images

The Milky Way is being warped and twisted study says Getty Images

The sun and its planets, including the Earth, occupy an insignificant spot in one of the minor spiral arms.

The new findings echo observations made over the last half century by scientists which indicated that gas clouds in the outer Milky Way were warped in shape.

In other words, the further the stars, the more spread out they will be. It confirms that the warped spiral pattern is caused by torque from the spinning of the Milky Way's massive inner disc of stars. Data on these classical Cepheid stars were provided by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). So our Milky Way's twists are rare but not unique.

They have observed a dozen other galaxies which show similar progressively twisted spiral patterns in their outer regions.

These are young stars, between four and 20 times the mass of our sun and 100,000 times brighter.

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

Prof de Grijs said: 'Somewhat to our surprise, we found in 3D our collection of 1,339 Cepheid stars and the Milky Way's gas disc follow each other closely. Astronomers from Macquarie University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have used 1339 "standard" stars to map the real shape of our home galaxy in a paper published in Nature Astronomy today. "Perhaps more importantly, in the Milky Way's outer regions, we found that the S-like stellar disk is warped in a progressively twisted spiral pattern".

From afar, the Milky Way appears like a thin rotating disk of stars, orbiting the center every few hundred million years.

This is the mysterious invisible material that provides the gravitational "glue" that holds galaxies together.

New research finds that at the edges of the galaxy, where the pull of gravity weakens, the shape of the Milky Way warps. In the outer disk, this keeps hydrogen gas from being confined, which contributes to an S-shaped warping.

Artist's impression above of the warped and twisted Milky Way disk.

This finding allowed for an updated map of the galaxy's "stellar motions", says Dr. Deng Licai, senior researcher at NAOC. You can see their final plot in the video below, published in Nature Astronomy.

IAC researcher Jonay González Hernández said: 'Theory predicts that these stars could form just after, and using material from, the first supernovae, whose progenitors were the first massive stars in the Galaxy'.

IAC director Rafael Rebolo said: 'Detecting lithium gives us crucial information related to Big Bang nucleosynthesis.

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