Scientists have known since the 1950s that the spiral-shaped Milky Way's disk is warped, bending by thousands of light-years at its outskirts.
The Milky Way galaxy's new shape has a twist - exaggerated here for effect.
Professor Richard de Grijs, one of the astronomers from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, said: 'We usually think of spiral galaxies as being quite flat, like Andromeda, which you can easily see through a telescope'. Data on these classical Cepheid stars were provided by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).
The light of these short-lived stars changes regularly, in day- to month-long cycles. Normally, it's hard to tell if a star is truly bright or simply close, truly dim or simply very far away.
Thankfully, scientists have built the most accurate map of the Milky Way yet, using a collection of huge, bright stars.More news: Magnetic north pole moving at faster rate
Researchers from Macquarie University, Australia, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences made their findings after creating a new 3-D map of the Milky Way, which allowed them to better estimate its shape. But a new 3D map reveals a surprise: The Milky Way is being warped and twisted by its stars.
And the twisted shape isn't necessarily unexpected - other spiral galaxies in the universe exhibit similar features.
Combined with a Cepheid's observed brightness, its pulsation period can be used to obtain a highly reliable distance.
But the research solidifies something that you might not know about our galaxy-if you picture it as a lovely, flat spiral akin to images of Andromeda, it's time to repaint that picture as a floppy, curved disk of stars and gas.
3D distribution of the classical Cepheid variable stars in the Milky Way's warped disc (red and blue points) centred on the location of the Sun (shown as a large orange symbol).More news: Kraken acquires crypto trading platform Crypto Facilities in a nine-figure deal
The billions of star and galactic bodies that make up a galaxy rotate around its center, making a complete orbit once every few hundred million years, according to Eureka Alert. But as you move toward the outermost reaches of the galaxy, the gravitational glue of the centre fades.
New research finds that at the edges of the galaxy, where the pull of gravity weakens, the shape of the Milky Way warps.
Co-author Dr Liu Chao, also of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said: "Combining our results with those other observations, we concluded the Milky Way's warped spiral pattern is most likely caused by 'torques" - or rotational forcing - by the massive inner disk'.
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'. And with the amount of stars in the Milky Way increasing thanks to observations by spacecraft such as the European Space Agency's Gaia, there's always room to improve the model even more. Their paper is published online today in Nature Astronomy.
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