Astronomers Find the Hollowed-Out Shell of a Dwarf Galaxy that Collided With the Milky Way Billions of Years Ago

In 2005 astronomers found a dense grouping of stars in the Virgo constellation. It looked like a star cluster, except further surveys showed that some of the stars are moving towards us, and some are moving away. That finding was unexpected and suggested the Stream was no simple star cluster.

A 2019 study showed that the grouping of stars is no star cluster at all; instead, it’s the hollowed-out shell of a dwarf spheroidal galaxy that merged with the Milky Way. It’s called the Virgo Overdensity (VOD) or the Virgo Stellar Stream.

A new study involving some of the same researchers shows how and when the merger occurred and identifies other shells from the same merger.

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7% of the Stars in the Milky Way’s Center Came From a Single Globular Cluster That Got Too Close and Was Broken Up

The heart of the Milky Way can be a mysterious place. A gigantic black hole resides there, and it’s surrounded by a retinue of stars that astronomers call a Nuclear Star Cluster (NSC). The NSC is one of the densest populations of stars in the Universe. There are about 20 million stars in the innermost 26 light years of the galaxy.

New research shows that about 7% of the stars in the NSC came from a single source: a globular cluster of stars that fell into the Milky Way between 3 and 5 billion years ago.

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Gaia has Already Given Us 5 New Insights Into the Milky Way

The ESA's Gaia mission is currently on a five-year mission to map the stars of the Milky Way. Gaia has found evidence for a galactic collision that occurred between 300 million and 900 million years ago. Image credit: ESA/ATG medialab; background: ESO/S. Brunier.

The European Space Agency launched the Gaia mission in 2013. The mission’s overall goal was to discover the history of the Milky Way by mapping out the positions and velocities of one billion stars. The result is kind of like a movie that shows the past and the future of our galaxy.

The mission has released two separate, massive data sets for researchers to work through, with a third data release expected soon. All that data has spawned a stream of studies into our home galaxy.

Recently, the ESA drew attention to five new insights into the Milky Way galaxy. Allof these discoveries directly stemmed from the Gaia spacecraft.

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The Milky Way is Already Starting to Digest the Magellanic Clouds, Starting With Their Protective Halos of Hot Gas

Massive galaxies like our Milky Way gain mass by absorbing smaller galaxies. The Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud are irregular dwarf galaxies that are gravitationally bound to the Milky Way. Both the clouds are distorted by the Milky Way’s gravity, and astronomers think that the Milky Way is in the process of digesting both galaxies.

A new study says that process is already happening, and that the Milky Way is enjoying the Magellanic Clouds’ halos of gas as an appetizer, creating a feature called the Magellanic Stream as it eats. It also explains a 50 year old mystery: Why is the Magellanic Stream so massive?

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The Solar System has been Flying Through the Debris of a Supernova for 33,000 Years

An Ancient Voyage

Earth is on a journey…

While our planet orbits the Sun each year – a billion kilometers – our entire Solar System is drifting through the Milky Way Galaxy making one rotation every 225-250 million years (that means dinosaurs actually lived on the other side of the Galaxy!) Humanity has been on Earth for a small fraction of that journey, but parts of what we’ve missed is chronicled. It is written into the rock and life of our planet by the explosions of dying stars – supernova. Turns out supernovas write in radioactive ink called Iron-60.

The Crab Nebula is the remains of a Supernova which occurred about a thousand years ago and was visible on Earth recorded by ancient astronomers – C. NASA/ESA/Hubble

As the Sun travels through the Galaxy, so too do the hundreds of billions of other stars that comprise the Milky Way; all swirling and spiraling in varying directions. If you could time travel to a distant past, you’d look up and see an unfamiliar sky – different stars, different constellations, and sometimes the glow of a brilliant supernova. Stars explode in the Milky Way about once every fifty years. Given the immense size of the Galaxy at around 150,000 light years in diameter, the odds of one of those stars exploding in our backyard is low.  But while supernova happen in the Galaxy twice a century, those in close proximity to Earth, within 400 light years, do happen once every few million years. And along Earth’s epic 4.5 billion-year journey, it appears that we’ve had close encounters with supernova several times. In fact, we seem to be travelling through the fallout cloud of supernovae right now.

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Astronomers See Through the Milky Way’s Dust to Track Where Radiation is Coming From at the Center of the Galaxy

The center of our very own galaxy might be one of the Universe’s most mysterious places. Astronomers have to probe through thick dust to see what’s going on there. All that dust makes life difficult for astronomers who are trying to understand all the radiation in the center of the Milky Way, and what exactly its source is.

A new study based on 20 years of data—and a hydrogen bubble where there shouldn’t be one—is helping astronomers understand all that energy.

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New Estimate Calculates There Could be 30 Intelligent Civilizations Communicating Across the Milky Way

Over the years, scientific estimates of potential intelligent life in our galaxy have ranged widely. Some estimates say just one (only us Earthlings) to just a handful, to possibly thousands or even millions. A new study attempts to quantify the number of other worlds we could potentially talk to by estimating the number of intelligent civilizations within the Milky Way that are actively communicating.   

The number?

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Hubble Photo of Globular Cluster NGC 6441, One of the Most Massive in the Milky Way

The Hubble Space Telescope has delivered another outstanding image. This one is of NGC 6441, a massive globular cluster in the constellation Scorpius. It’s one of the most massive ones in the Milky Way, and the stars in it have a combined mass of 1.6 million solar masses.

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Astronomers Find the Source of the Huge Bubbles of Gas Flowing Out of the Milky Way, Still No Idea What Caused Them

There’s an unusual paradox hampering research into parts of the Milky Way. Dense gas blocks observations of the galactic core, and it can be difficult to observe in visible light from our vantage point. But distant galaxies don’t always present the same obstacles. So in some ways, we can observe distant galaxies better than we can observe our own.

In order to gain a better understanding of the Galactic Center (GC) and the Interstellar Medium (ISM), a team of astronomers used a telescope called the Wisconsin H-Alpha Mapper (WHAM) to look into the core of the Milky Way in part of the optical light spectrum.

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