Tag Archives: galaxy

Looking at the south pole of the Milky Way

Link here. The link provides instructions for finding the spot in the sky that corresponds to the south pole of the galaxy, pointing in a perpendicular direction away from its center.

No star marks the position. It sits in the faint southern constellation of Sculptor, the sculptor’s studio, hence its identification is intellectual rather than sensorial.

This is the case of the dog that did not bark. The reason there is little to see there is that you will be looking down out of the plane of the galaxy, in a direction with the fewest stars to see. The view is therefore looking out of our galaxy, at intergalactic space, vast and empty.

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Astronomers use radio emissions from distant galaxy to observe asteroid

The wonders of science: Astronomers have successfully used the faint radio emissions from very distant galaxy to roughly determine the shape and size of a nearby asteroid.

In an unusual observation, astronomers used the National Science Foundation’s Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) to study the effects on radio waves coming from a distant radio galaxy when an asteroid in our Solar System passed in front of the galaxy. The observation allowed them to measure the size of the asteroid, gain new information about its shape, and greatly improve the accuracy with which its orbital path can be calculated.

When the asteroid passed in front of the galaxy, radio waves coming from the galaxy were slightly bent around the asteroid’s edge, in a process called diffraction. As these waves interacted with each other, they produced a circular pattern of stronger and weaker waves, similar to the patterns of bright and dark circles produced in terrestrial laboratory experiments with light waves. “By analyzing the patterns of the diffracted radio waves during this event, we were able to learn much about the asteroid, including its size and precise position, and to get some valuable clues about its shape,” said Jorma Harju, of the University of Helsinki in Finland.

The amount of information is not great, and there is an enormous amount of uncertainty in the data. Nonetheless, this is an amazing and fascinating observation.

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The Milky Way is like ripples in a pond

Milky Way ripples

The uncertainty of science: New survey data of the stars in the Milky Way suggest that the galaxy is not only corrugated with concentric ripples — like you’d see if you dropped a stone in a pond — it is also about 50% larger than previous estimates.

I have watched the size of the Milky Way fluctuate up and down depending on the research for the past forty years. Sometimes it is larger than expected. Sometimes smaller. Without doubt we are getting a better idea of its actual size, but don’t be surprised if the numbers continue to bounce about for decades, even centuries, to come.

The confirmation that the spiral arms are the equivalent of ripples in a pond is also not surprising, as it confirms the intuitive conclusion of anyone who looks at a whirlpool-shaped spiral galaxy: It is a whirlpool spiraling into the gravity well at its center.

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Metals in the inner galaxy

A preprint paper, published today on the astro-ph website but also accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, has confirmed what scientists have suspected about the dust and gas between the stars: As you travel closer to the center of the Milky Way galaxy this interstellar medium gets increasingly enriched with heavy elements. The scientists believe this is because the higher rate of supernovae in the inner galaxy sprays space with more of these atoms.

Since the field of extrasolar planets has also found that the more heavy elements a star contains, the more chance it will have planets, the new results above suggest that we will find more planets as we look inward towards the galactic center.

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