Science

Researchers find a ‘break’ in one of the Milky Way’s arms

Space experts have accomplished amazing work sorting out what our home Milky Way galaxy resembles. We know it’s a spiral galaxy with two significant arms. Another investigation uncovers one of the galaxy’s minor arms has a “break” in it, a set of stars and gas clouds that are standing out.

NASA depicted the break on Tuesday as resembling a splinter standing out from wood. “Stretching some 3,000 light-years, this is the first major structure identified with an orientation so dramatically different than the arm’s,” the space organization said in a press release.

The structure that is standing out incorporates youthful stars and a group of nebulae, including the Lagoon Nebula and the Eagle Nebula, home to Hubble’s famous Pillars of Creation picture. Rather than holding tight to the spiral of the galaxy’s Sagittarius Arm, the structure protrudes at an eminent angle.

Caltech astrophysicist Michael Kuhn is the lead creator of the study, published last month in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The research team used information from NASA’s presently resigned Spitzer Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s Gaia space observatory to find newborn stars and measure distances to them to make a 3D look at the arm segment.

“When we put the Gaia and Spitzer data together and finally see this detailed, three-dimensional map, we can see that there’s quite a bit of complexity in this region that just hasn’t been apparent before,” said Kuhn. Scientists have spotted similar structures in spiral galaxies seen by our telescopes. These structures have been called spurs or feathers.

“The stars in the newly discovered structure likely formed around the same time, in the same general area, and were uniquely influenced by the forces acting within the galaxy, including gravity and shear due to the galaxy’s rotation,” said NASA.

The Milky Way is our home (Earth lives in the small Orion arm), and it will keep on being a challenge to work out the subtleties of its structure. As NASA said, it resembles remaining in Times Square and attempting to draw a map of the whole island of Manhattan.

The “splinter” discover gives researchers a new point of view on the galaxy. It might have distinctive spiral arms, yet only one out of every odd star and nebula is coloring within the lines.

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