A new paper, accepted for publication in Astrophysical science journal, is claiming that the Milky Way is 50 percent bigger than previously thought. The new insight is based off a thin strand of stars, which was discovered in 2002.
If the research is correct, this would mean that our Milky Way spans nearly 150,000 light years across, a massive 50,000 light-years bigger than NASA’s initial estimate of 100,000. The difference is due to the Monoceros Ring, or the thin strand of stars, previously mentioned, that wraps around the Milky Way three times.
According to STGIST, the stars are forming like a “big series of waves expanding from above and below the edge of the ‘relatively flat’ Milk Way.” As such, if the Monoceros Ring, which expands roughly 65,000 light years from the galactic center, is to be included in what we consider to be the Milky Way, the overall size of the galaxy will expand an addition 50,000 light years. Furthermore, its shape will also change from “relatively flat” to a corrugated disk.
Scientist Yan Xu, from the National Astronomical Observatories of China explains why: “We identified an asymmetry in disk stars that oscillates from the north to the south, to the north to the south across the galactic plane in the anticenter direction,” Xu said.
“What we see now is that this apparent ring is actually a ripple in the disk. And it may well be that there are more ripples further out which we have not yet seen,” she also added.
The information, although controversial, is vital in order to give scientists a better understanding of the galaxy, and ultimately of the Earth. Knowing the exact size of the Milky Way, for example, will permit scientists to explore any hidden pockets that are currently unmapped and shrouded in mystery. Furthermore, the research will also help determine how big a “habitable zone” in a galaxy actually is.
Most importantly, however, this study could answer questions about other galaxies. If the “corrugated disk” model is true, does this mean that all galaxies are similarly shaped? And if not, what’s the exact purpose of those ripples in our Milky Way?