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Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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The Milky Way is 50% Larger than First Thought

A "rippled" Milky Way

(Photo : Rensselaer RPI News) A "rippled" Milky Way may be 50 percent larger than previously estimated

The Milky Way is apparently 50 percent larger than what astronomers previously thought and a new study reveals its galactic disk possesses several concentric ripples stretching outward.

This new research was conducted by an international team led by Heidi Jo Newberg from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute after restudying astronomical data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. This data obtained from 2002 revealed the presence of a bulging ring of stars beyond the plane of the Milky Way.

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The new findings show these features are already identified as rings and part of the galactic disk that extends from the width of the Milky Way some 100,000 light years to 150,000 across deep space, says Yan Xu from the National Astronomical Observatories of China and formerly from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the lead author of the paper.

Newberg already established the existence of the Milky Way's "Monoceros Ring," which can be described as an over-density of stars from the outer edges of the galaxy that bulges from its galactic plane.

She also observed some evidence of another over density of stars located between the Monoceros Ring and our Sun. With new data available from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, researchers are now hoping to decipher this cosmic phenomenon.

During their investigation, researchers discovered four anomalies. One lies in the northern galactic plane at two kilo parsecs from the sun; another south of the plane at four to six kilo parsecs; a third one to the north of the plane at eight to 10 kilo parsecs and the last one lies to the south at 12 to 16 kilo parsecs from the sun.

The Monoceros Ring is associated with the third ripple. Researchers discovered these oscillations appear to be parallel with the locations of the Milky Way's spiral arms.

These new findings also support new research about how galaxies orbiting the Milky Way like dwarf galaxies can contain dark matter and produce a similar rippling effect. These ripples could also be the effect of the presence of the elusive dark matter that is known to make-up most of the mass in the expanding universe.

This study was published in the Astrophysical Journal.

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