Astronomers have been observing the skies for years and with the improvements of the telescope and the technology they use, they were able to identify a total of 208 different stars just under 1 million light years away from the center of the Milky Way.
They had finally built a stellar road sign for the end of our very own galaxy. The photos from James Webb Space Telescope were revealed and these involved the universe at large. They were able to truly see the world out there.
As these astronomers studied our own galaxy, this provides them with the information they need to learn the structure of other galaxies in the universe as well. They also are able to see features of the cosmic neighborhood along the way.
They found what they call the RR Lyrae stars. The 208 most distant stars were actually discovered in the residual data of a ground-based telescope that surveyed a cluster of galaxies far from the Milky Way.
As for our very own Milky Way, it consists of a “bulge.” This bulge is the galactic center and around it is the thin spiral-arm disk where our own solar system is. After this are the inner and outer “halo.” The latter is a region that consists of large amounts of dark matter and less information when compared to the inner regions.
The disk is our Milky Way is about 100,000 light years across, but the outer halo extends in all directions as far as hundreds of thousands of light years. This is where stars were found “beating” like hearts in the darkness because they had such unique characteristics.
“The way their brightness varies looks like an EKG—they’re like the heartbeats of the galaxy—so the brightness goes up quickly and comes down slowly, and the cycle repeats perfectly with this very characteristic shape,” said Raja GuhaThakurta. He is a professor and chair of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.
“In addition, if you measure their average brightness, it is the same from star to star. This combination is fantastic for studying the structure of the galaxy.”
The RR Lyrae stars are considered to be very old stars in the galaxy. When 208 of these are placed in the outer reaches of the halo, the astronomers will be able to gather sufficient data and information regarding the of the Milky Way.
When it comes to measuring the galactic distance in kiloparsecs, astronomers see each one as a representation of 3,260 light years. Some of the farthest RR Lyrae stars identified were found to be 320 kiloparsecs from the bulge. Or, this is roughly 1.04 million light years. The decimal figure represents a big expansion of the previous estimations made on the other portions of the outside halo. This is also roughly 2.5 million light years to the nearest neighboring galaxy, Andromeda.
“This study is redefining what constitutes the outer limits of our galaxy,” GuhaThakurta explained. “Our galaxy and Andromeda are both so big, there’s hardly any space between the two galaxies.”
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