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578Milky Way’s Central Structure Seen with Fresh Clarity

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  • blackstar7us
    Aug 17 10:47 AM
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      Milky Way's Central Structure Seen with Fresh Clarity
      By Robert Roy Britt
      Senior Science Writer
      posted: 16 August, 2005
      10:00 am ET

      Story found at:
      http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/050816_milky_way.html

      A new infrared survey that claims to be the most comprehensive
      structural analysis of our galaxy confirms previous evidence for a
      central bar of stars.

      The bar is embedded in the center of the galaxy's spiral arms and
      cuts across the heart of it all where a supermassive black hole
      resides. The survey found that the bar is longer than thought and
      sits at a sharp angle to the galaxy's main plane.

      "This is the best evidence ever for this long central bar in our
      galaxy," said Ed Churchwell, a University of Wisconsin-Madison
      professor of astronomy.

      The challenge

      If you've ever been fortunate enough to see the Milky Way in the
      night sky, then you can appreciate the frustration astronomers face
      trying to probe the galaxy's center.

      The milky swath of stars visible under a dark, rural, summertime sky
      represents a fraction of the millions upon millions of stars that
      crowd the center of the galaxy. We sit on the outskirts, looking in.
      Seeing through the glow to determine the galaxy's structure is hard.

      Even more challenging is peering through all the dust between here
      there.

      The survey was done with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which
      records infrared light. All objects that emit any heat can be seen in
      infrared, and this wavelength penetrates dust, so the new survey
      revealed light from tens of millions of stars hidden to optical
      telescopes.

      Bigger than expected

      The bar is made of relatively old and red stars, the survey shows. It
      is about 27,000 light-years long, or roughly 7,000 light-years longer
      than previously thought. Churchwell's team also found that the bar is
      oriented at about a 45-degree angle relative to the main plane of the
      galaxy, in which the Sun and the other spiral-arm stars orbit.

      A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 6
      trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers).

      Other stars exist outside the galaxy's main plane. The Milky Way,
      like many galaxies, is surrounded by a sparsely populated spherical
      halo of stars. The main galactic disk is about 100,000 light-years
      wide, and the Sun sits about 26,000 light-years from the center.

      Bars are fairly common in large spiral galaxies, but some do not have
      them. Astronomers had glimpsed ours and were not sure if it was in
      fact a bar or perhaps an ellipse.

      The results will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.