February 27, 2015
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Like early explorers mapping the continents of our globe, astronomers are busy charting the spiral structure of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Using infrared images from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, scientists have discovered that the Milky Way’s elegant spiral structure is dominated by just two arms wrapping off the ends of a central bar of stars.
Previously, our galaxy was thought to possess four major arms. This artist’s concept illustrates the new view of the Milky Way, along with other findings presented at the 212th American Astronomical Society meeting in St. Louis, Mo. The galaxy’s two major arms (Scutum-Centaurus and Perseus) can be seen attached to the ends of a thick central bar, while the two now-demoted minor arms (Norma and Sagittarius) are less distinct and located between the major arms. The major arms consist of the highest densities of both young and old stars; the minor arms are primarily filled with gas and pockets of star-forming activity. The artist’s concept also includes a new spiral arm, called the “Far-3 kiloparsec arm,” discovered via a radio-telescope survey of gas in the Milky Way. This arm is shorter than the two major arms and lies along the bar of the galaxy. Our sun lies near a small, partial arm called the Orion Arm, or Orion Spur, located between the Sagittarius and Perseus arms. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Astronomers using data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, have found a cluster of stars forming at the very edge of our Milky Way galaxy.
“A stellar nursery in what seems to be the middle of nowhere is quite surprising,” said Peter Eisenhardt, the project scientist for the WISE mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “But surprises turn up when you look everywhere, as the WISE survey did.”
The discovery, led by Denilso Camargo of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil, appears in a new study in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The Milky Way, the galaxy we live in, has a barred spiral shape, with arms of stars, gas and dust winding out from a central bar. Viewed from the side, the galaxy would appear relatively flat, with most of the material in a disk and the central regions.
Using infrared survey images from WISE, the team discovered two clusters of stars thousands of light-years below the galactic disk. The stars live in dense clumps of gas called giant molecular clouds.
This is the first time astronomers have found stars being born in such a remote location. Clouds of star-forming material at very high latitudes away from the galactic plane are rare and, in general, are not expected to form stars.
“Our work shows that the space around the galaxy is a lot less empty that we thought,” said Camargo. “The new clusters of stars are truly exotic. In a few million years, any inhabitants of planets around the stars will have a grand view of the outside of the Milky Way, something no human being will probably ever experience.”
To learn more about the discovery, and what might have caused the stars to form at the edge of our galaxy, read the Royal Astronomical Society news release at:
See the full article here.
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NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The mission’s principal investigator, Edward L. (Ned) Wright, is at UCLA. The mission was competitively selected in 2002 under NASA’s Explorers Program managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory, Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp, Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing will take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.
The mission’s education and public outreach office is based at the University of California, Berkeley.