"Galaxy Blue" by Souricette-du-13 / CC BY-SA 4.0

New Star Map Reveals the Milky Way Is Warped

Feb 5, 2019

By Ryan F. Mandelbaum

A new analysis of pulsing stars has revealed the Milky Way’s twisted shape.

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. Now, researchers have created a map of stars called Cepheid variables in order to create a 3D map of our galaxy and understand the warping better than ever.

Though past analysis has established that the hydrogen gas in our galaxy takes on a warped shape, questions have remained as to whether stars follow the same shape or not. So the researchers from universities in China and Australia built a model of the Milky Way’s disk using a well-known distance measure: stars called Cepheid variables. Cepheids pulse with a regular period that varies with their brightness. That means that if you know the pulsation period, you can infer the star’s actual luminosity, then compare that with the luminosity observed from Earth in order to determine the distance.

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