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SPACE: The Milky Way Is Warped

Milky Way - Pixabay

There’s trouble brewing at the edge of the Milky Way: New measurements suggest that a peculiar distortion of the galactic disk is hardly moving, contradicting earlier reports. As yet, nobody knows which finding will end up being correct. At stake are some key details in the structure and formation of spiral galaxies throughout the universe. Astronomers describe the Milky Way as a flat disk-shaped, double-armed spiral galaxy twirling and twinkling with stars. Yet since the mid-20th century, astronomers have known that this picture is partially wrong. Observations in the radio part of the electromagnetic spectrum first revealed that our galaxy’s … Read more

How Long is a Galactic Year?

Humans are used to keeping time by measuring Earth’s movement relative to the sun. But while Earth’s trips around its star are noteworthy to life on our pale blue dot, that journey is pretty insignificant when compared with the epic voyage that carries the sun — and our entire solar system — around the center of the Milky Way. Orbiting the Milky Way galaxy just once takes the sun approximately 220 million to 230 million Earth years, according to Keith Hawkins, an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin. In other words, if we were to … Read more

SPACE: Hoag’s Object is the Turducken of Galaxies

SPACE: Hoag's Object Is The Turducken Of Galaxies

Look closely at the serpent constellation slithering through the northern sky, and you might see a galaxy within a galaxy within a galaxy. This cosmic turducken is known as Hoag’s object, and it has befuddled stargazers since astronomer Arthur Hoag discovered it in 1950. The object in question is a rare, ring-shaped galaxy measuring some 100,000 light-years across (slightly larger than the Milky Way) and located 600 million light-years from Earth. In a recent image of the oddball object taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and processed by geophysicist Benoit Blanco, a bright ring of billions of blue stars forms … Read more

SPACE: Where’s the Missing Dark Matter?

andromeda - pixabay

Nineteen newly discovered dwarf galaxies seem to be missing their dark matter, and physicists aren’t sure why. The find dramatically increases the number of galaxies that appear to be missing dark matter, the mysterious, invisible stuff that exerts gravitational pull, yet emits no light. Dark matter is thought to be a key ingredient in galaxy formation, with its gravity pulling together atoms of gas to form galaxies. We can tell dark matter is present in a galaxy because it makes the matter in that galaxy swirl faster than it would if the matter we see made up the galaxy’s whole … Read more

NASA: The Best Way to Conquer the Galaxy

Milky Way expansion

A team of Chinese researchers has won a NASA competition to design the best-possible method for humans to colonize the galaxy. Their plan for the construction of an interstellar human civilization can be seen in the animation above. The competition was, at its core, about solving a complicated problem of geometry and route-making using limited resources. NASA asked participants to imagine that, in 10,000 years, human beings have decided all together to set out for the stars. But there’s a catch: “Although technologies and knowledge have dramatically progressed,” NASA wrote of this imagined future, “we are still subject to the … Read more

SPACE: Is the Drake Equation Useless?

aliens - pixabay

For the precocious hunter of off-Earth life, the Drake equation is the ever-ready, go-to toolkit for estimating just how (not) lonely humans are in the Milky Way galaxy. The equation was developed by astronomer Frank Drake in 1961 in a slight hurry so that attendees of an upcoming conference would have something to confer about, and it breaks down the daunting question “Are we alone?” into more manageable, bite-size chunks.  The equation starts with some straightforward concepts, such as the rate of star formation and the fraction of stars hosting planets. But it quickly moves into tricky terrain, asking for numbers like … Read more

SPACE: Crossing the Milkyway

Milky Way

The disk of our home galaxy – the Milky Way – is bigger than we previously thought. A new study shows it would take 200,000 years for a spaceship traveling at the speed of light to go across the entire galaxy. Researchers made the find after analyzing the abundances of metals (heavy elements) in stars, also known as their metallicities. When looking beyond the previously assumed boundary of the Milky Way’s disk, scientists were surprised to see stars with compositions resembling those of disk stars. “We have shown that there is an appreciable fraction of stars with higher metallicity, characteristic … Read more

SPACE: It’s an Epic Clash of Galaxies

Andromeda Milky Way - pixabay

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is on a collision course with its neighbor Andromeda. Although the collision will take place about 4 billion years from now, astronomers have long placed bets on which of the two star systems is more likely to survive the mega crash. Until recently, Andromeda, currently roughly 2.5 million light-years away from the Milky Way, was the clear favorite. But a new study suggests the outcome of the cosmic smashup might be closer to a tie. In a paper published online Jan. 10 in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, a team of … Read more