Waves of the Milky Way Galaxy

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A “rippled” Milky Way may be 50 percent larger than previously estimated.

The Milky Way Galaxy is at least 50 percent larger than is commonly estimated, according to new findings that reveal that the galactic disc is contoured into several concentric ripples. The research, conducted by an international team revisits astronomical data which established the presence of a bulging ring of stars beyond the known plane of the Milky Way.

“In essence, what we found is that the disc of the Milky Way isn’t just a disc of stars in a flat plane — it’s corrugated,” said a professor of physics, applied physics, and astronomy. “As it radiates outward from the Sun, we see at least four ripples in the disc of the Milky Way. While we can only look at part of the Galaxy with this data, we assume that this pattern is going to be found throughout the disc.”

Importantly, the findings show that the features previously identified as rings are actually part of the galactic disc, extending the known width of the Milky Way from 100,000 light-years across to 150,000 light-years, said a scientist and lead author of the paper.

“Going into the research, astronomers had observed that the number of Milky Way stars diminishes rapidly about 50,000 light-years from the center of the Galaxy, and then a ring of stars appears at about 60,000 light-years from the center,” said the scientist. “What we see now is that this apparent ring is actually a ripple in the disc. And it may well be that there are more ripples further out which we have not yet seen.”


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