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Astronomers Measure Mass of Milky Way Galaxy

The Milky Way, the galaxy which contains Earth's solar system, is home to up to 400 billion stars and an estimated 100 billion planets.

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Milky way galaxy, scientists
The measurement includes all the stars and planets, dust and gas, as well as the four-million-solar-mass supermassive black hole at the center. Pixabay

Using data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite, astronomers have come up with one of the most accurate measurements of mass of the Milky Way galaxy.

While previous research dating back several decades provided estimates for our galaxy’s mass, ranging between 500 billion to three trillion solar masses, according to the latest measurements, Milky Way weighs about 1.5 trillion solar masses (one solar mass is the mass of our Sun).

The measurement includes all the stars and planets, dust and gas, as well as the four-million-solar-mass supermassive black hole at the center.

“We want to know the mass of the Milky Way more accurately so that we can put it into a cosmological context and compare it to simulations of galaxies in the evolving universe,” said Roeland van der Marel of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland.

milky way galaxy, scientists
The more massive a galaxy, the faster its globular clusters move under the pull of gravity, according to a forthcoming paper in The Astrophysical Journal. Pixabay

To weigh the galaxy, the team augmented Gaia measurements for 34 globular clusters out to 65,000 light-years, with Hubble measurements of 12 clusters out to 130,000 light-years that were obtained from images taken over a 10-year period.

They also measured the three-dimensional movement of globular star clusters – isolated spherical islands each containing hundreds of thousands of stars each that orbit the center of our galaxy.

The more massive a galaxy, the faster its globular clusters move under the pull of gravity, according to a forthcoming paper in The Astrophysical Journal.

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The new mass estimate puts our galaxy on the beefier side, compared to other galaxies in the universe. The lightest galaxies are around a billion solar masses, while the heaviest are 30 trillion, or 30,000 times more massive.

The Milky Way, the galaxy which contains Earth’s solar system, is home to up to 400 billion stars and an estimated 100 billion planets. (IANS)

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Astronomers Use Massive Cluster of Galaxies as X-Ray Magnifying Glass to Spot Tiny Dwarf Galaxy

What they detected appears to be a blue speck of an infant galaxy, about 1/10,000 the size of our Milky Way, in the midst of churning out

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Astronomers, Galaxies, X-Ray
While galaxy clusters have been used to magnify objects at optical wavelengths, this is the first time scientists have leveraged these massive gravitational giants to zoom in on extreme, distant, X-ray-emitting phenomena. Pixabay

Using a massive cluster of galaxies as an X-ray magnifying glass, astronomers have spotted a tiny dwarf galaxy in the first, super-energetic stages of star formation.

The new lens technique allowed the astronomers to peer back in time, to nearly 9.4 billion years ago.

While galaxy clusters have been used to magnify objects at optical wavelengths, this is the first time scientists have leveraged these massive gravitational giants to zoom in on extreme, distant, X-ray-emitting phenomena.

What they detected appears to be a blue speck of an infant galaxy, about 1/10,000 the size of our Milky Way, in the midst of churning out its first stars — supermassive, cosmically short-lived objects that emit high-energy X-rays, which the researchers detected in the form of a bright blue arc.

Astronomers, Galaxies, X-Ray
The new lens technique allowed the astronomers to peer back in time, to nearly 9.4 billion years ago. Pixabay

“It’s this little blue smudge, meaning it’s a very small galaxy that contains a lot of super-hot, very massive young stars that formed recently,” said Matthew Bayliss, a research scientist in Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

“This galaxy is similar to the very first galaxies that formed in the universe … the kind of which no one has ever seen in X-ray in the distant universe before.”

The detection of this single, distant galaxy is proof that scientists can use galaxy clusters as natural X-ray magnifiers, to pick out extreme, highly energetic phenomena in the universe’s early history, Bayliss said.

“With this technique, we could, in the future, zoom in on a distant galaxy and age-date different parts of it — to say, this part has stars that formed 200 million years ago, versus another part that formed 50 million years ago, and pick them apart in a way you cannot otherwise do,” said Bayliss.

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The findings have been published in the journal Nature Astronomy. (IANS)