It turns out that the estimates made by astronomers regarding the width of our galaxy could have been off by as much as 50 percent, according to the newly released findings of a scientific study.
Scientists say that the original estimate of the size of the Milky Way – 100,000 light years across – may need to be upgraded by an additional 50,000 light years. No, the galaxy didn’t suddenly put on weight; the truth is that rings of stars that were once thought to surround the galaxy may actually be a part of it instead.
Yan Xu from the National Astronomical Observatories of China, who had been a visiting scientist at Rensselaer Polytechnic in New York at the time the research was undertaken, is the lead author on the paper that announced the new findings. Xu said that astronomers had at one time that the number of stars in the Milky Way diminishes at a rapid pace around 50,000 light-years from its center, with a ring of stars appearing at around 60,000 light years out; however, this ring is actually a ripple in the galactic disk of the Milky Way – and that there may be even more ripples out even further which haven’t been spotted yet.
Study co-author Heidi Jo Newberg, a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic that led the international research team that made the discovery, says that they found the Milky Way’s disk wasn’t arranged in a flat plane but corrugated instead. She likened it to the effects of throwing a pebble into calm water, with waves radiating out from the central point of impact.
However, it’s not a pebble causing the disruption. Instead, Newberg said the distortion could be caused by a dwarf galaxy passing through the Milky Way’s disk, as its gravity would pull the disk up as it enters and pull it back down as it goes through. This would set up a wave pattern that would spread outward. The scientists added that as it radiates outward from our own vantage point, at least four ripples can be spotted in the disk of our own galaxy.