Washington: A new study has revealed that Milky Way galaxy may be 50 percent larger than commonly estimated as its galactic disk is contoured into several concentric ripples.
The research, conducted by an international team led by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Heidi Jo Newberg, revisited astronomical data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey which, in 2002, established the presence of a bulging ring of stars beyond the known plane of the Milky Way.
The findings showed that the features previously identified as rings are actually part of the galactic disk , extending the known width of the Milky Way from 100,000 light years across to 150,000 light years, said Yan Xu, a scientist at the National Astronomical Observatories of China (which is part of the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing), former visiting scientist at Rensselaer, and lead author of the paper.
The new research was built upon a 2002 finding in which Newberg established the existence of the "Monoceros Ring," an "over-density" of stars at the outer edges of the galaxy that bulges above the galactic plane.
At the time, Newberg noticed evidence of another over-density of stars, between the Monoceros Ring and the sun, but was unable to investigate further. With more data available from the SDSS, researchers recently returned to the mystery.
When researchers revisited the data, they found four anomalies: one north of the galactic plane at 2 kilo-parsecs (kpc) from the sun, one south of the plane at 4-6 kpc, a third to the north at 8-10 kpc, and evidence of a fourth to the south 12-16 kpc from the sun.
The Monoceros Ring was associated with the third ripple. The researchers further found that the oscillations appear to line up with the locations of the galaxy's spiral arms.
Newberg said the findings supported other recent research, including a theoretical finding that a dwarf galaxy or dark matter lump passing through the Milky Way would produce a similar rippling effect. In fact, the ripples might ultimately be used to measure the lumpiness of dark matter in our galaxy.
The study is published in the Astrophysical Journal.