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New analysis shows Milky Way a decidedly ‘warped” spiral

5 Feb 2019, 19:25 UTC
New analysis shows Milky Way a decidedly ‘warped” spiral
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An exaggerated impression of the Milky Way, showing how the galaxy’s disc is warped. Image: Xiaodian Chen (National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences)

Using more than a thousand Cepheid variable stars as distance and position markers, an international team of astronomers have produced a 3D map of the Milky Way, showing it is not a flat spiral like the familiar Andromeda galaxy. Instead, the team has concluded the Milky Way’s disc becomes increasingly warped and twisted the farther the stars are from the galaxy’s center.
Cepheids are stars that pulsate in a regular cadence that is related to their absolute magnitude. By comparing the apparent brightness of a Cepheid as seen from Earth with its presumed absolute magnitude, astronomers can calculate the distance to the star in question.
Researchers with Macquarie University in Australia and the Chinese Academy of Sciences used a sampling of 1,339 “classical” Cepheid variable stars, all with distances known to within 3 to 5 percent, to map the Milky Way in three dimensions. They found the Cepheids generally reflect the distribution of gas in the galaxy’s disc.
The 3D distribution of more than 1,000 Cepheid variable stars, centered on the Sun (shown as ...

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