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.
Continue reading “Gaia has Already Given Us 5 New Insights Into the Milky Way”
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?
Continue reading “The Milky Way is Already Starting to Digest the Magellanic Clouds, Starting With Their Protective Halos of Hot Gas”
Supernovae are some of the most powerful events in the Universe. They’re extremely energetic, luminous explosions that can light up the sky. Astrophysicists have a pretty good idea how they work, and they’ve organized supernovae into two broad categories: they’re the end state for massive stars that explode near the end of their lives, or they’re white dwarfs that draw gas from a companion which triggers runaway fusion.
Now there might be a third type.
Continue reading “A Star had a Partial Supernova and Kicked Itself Into a High-Speed Journey Across the Milky Way”
Modern professional astronomers aren’t much like astronomers of old. They don’t spend every suitable evening with their eyes glued to a telescope’s eyepiece. You might be more likely to find them in front of a super-computer, working with AI and deep learning methods.
One group of researchers employed those methods to find a whole new collection of stars in the Milky Way; a group of stars which weren’t born here.
Continue reading “A Stellar Stream of Stars, Stolen from Another Galaxy”
Six billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way? If true, that’s astounding. But the number needs some context.
The Milky Way has up 400 billion stars. So even if there are six billion Earth-like planets, they’re still spread far and wide throughout our vast galaxy.
Continue reading “Astronomers Estimate There Are 6 Billion Earth-Like Planets in the Milky Way”
The center of the Milky Way is home to a giant black hole, but new research suggests that it isn’t the only big player in the downtown core of our galaxy – massive magnetic fields also shape and drive the flows of gas there.
Continue reading “There are powerful magnetic fields at the core of the Milky Way, driven by the supermassive black hole”
Our Milky Way galaxy isn’t just a disk of stars and nebulae – it’s surrounded by a cloud of hot, thin plasma. And recently, researchers at The Ohio State University confirmed that the plasma surrounding our galaxy is much, much hotter than we previously thought.
Continue reading “The Milky Way is surrounded by a huge hot halo of gas”
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.
Continue reading “Astronomers Find the Source of the Huge Bubbles of Gas Flowing Out of the Milky Way, Still No Idea What Caused Them”
It’s a truism to point out that modern humans have only been around for the blink of an eye, relative to the age of the Universe. But the Universe was an active place long before we were around to observe all of that activity. And about 3.5 million years ago, it’s possible—if only remotely—that our ancient ancestors noticed something change in the night sky.
Would it have stirred something inside them? Impossible to know.
Continue reading “About 3.5 Million Years Ago, a Stream of Gas Outside the Milky Way Would Have Lit Up the Night Sky”
The Milky Way has a number of satellite galaxies; nearly 60 of them, depedending on how we define them. One of them, called the Sagittarius Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxy (Sgr d Sph), may have played a huge role when it comes to humans, our world and our little civilization. A collision between the Milky Way and the Sgr d Sph may have created the Solar System itself.
Continue reading “The Solar System Might Not Exist if There Wasn’t a Huge Galactic Collision with the Milky Way Billions of Years Ago”