The Milky Way is warped

The Milky Way is warped

The first accurate 3D map of our galaxy reveals its true shape: warped and twisted.

A slightly exaggerated impression of the real shape of our warped and twisted Milky Way

Astronomers from Macquarie University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have used 1339 ‘standard’ stars to map the real shape of our home galaxy in a paper published in Nature Astronomy today.

They found the Milky Way’s disc of stars becomes increasingly ‘warped’ and twisted the further away the stars are from the galaxy’s centre.

“We usually think of spiral galaxies as being quite flat, like Andromeda which you can easily see through a telescope,” says Professor Richard de Grijs, a co-author and astronomer from the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Trying to determine the real shape of our galaxy is like standing in a Sydney garden and trying to determine the shape of Australia. But, for the past 50 years there have been indications that the hydrogen clouds in the Milky Way are warped. The new map shows that the warped Milky Way disc also contains young stars. It confirms that the warped spiral pattern is caused by torque from the spinning of the Milky Way’s massive inner disc of stars.

Find out more.

Read Richard's article on The Conversation.

Read more about Richard’s research on The Lighthouse.

Image of a slightly exaggerated impression of the real shape of our warped and twisted Milky Way by Xiaodian Chen.

Published 5 February 2019.

Back to the top of this page