X Shaped Structure at the Center of the Milky Way
August 25, 2016 Leave a comment
If you’ve ever seen depictions of the Milky Way Galaxy (the one we live in) you’re probably familiar with the idea of it being a round disc. It’s a little more complicated than that, though. It is pretty much a round disc, but it also has two spiral arms that make up part of that disc, as well as a bar that runs through the middle of it with a bulge in the center. All of these shapes are made up of star systems, gas, and dust, for the record.
Two astronomers from the University of Toronto and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg are convinced that there is an X shaped structure of stars within that central bulge, and they’ve written a paper to support it. The idea of the X structure has been around for a bit, but evidence of it has been kind of thin. What the X tells us, among other things, is that since our galaxy formed it hasn’t crashed into other galaxies, because that would have broken the X shape at the center.
If it helps, you can think of a galaxy (in our case 100,000 light years in diameter and comprised of billions of stars) like our own star system. All of those stars represent Earth and the other planets orbiting around the center of the galaxy (or the Sun, in this metaphor). Solar systems orbit around the center of the galaxy, and as they move through space at various times throughout their lifespans, they may collide with another system. Galaxies do the same thing, and there are others out there that look like they’ve collided with each other. But ours most likely isn’t one of them.
Astronomers are great at gathering tons of details from relatively little information, and that’s the goal with the X structure as well. The more they study it, the more we’re likely to learn about how our galaxy was formed.