Tag: astronomy

There’s a giant stellar void in the Milky Way

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The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy containing many billions of stars, with our Sun about 26,000 light years from its centre. Measuring the distribution of these stars is crucial to our understanding of how our Galaxy formed and evolved. Pulsating stars called Cepheids are ideal for this. They are much younger (between 10 and 300 million years old) than our Sun (4.6 billion years old) and they pulsate in brightness in a regular cycle. The length of this cycle is related to the luminosity of the Cepheid, so if astronomers monitor them they can establish how bright the star really is, compare it with what we see from Earth, and work out its distance.

Despite this, finding Cepheids in the inner Milky Way is difficult, as the Galaxy is full of interstellar dust which blocks out light and hides many stars from view. Matsunaga’s team compensated for this, with an analysis of near-infrared observations made with a Japanese-South African telescope located at Sutherland, South Africa. To their surprise they found hardly any Cepheids in a huge region stretching for thousands of light years from the core of the Galaxy.

Noriyuki Matsunaga explains: “We already found some while ago that there are Cepheids in the central heart of our Milky Way (in a region about 150 light years in radius). Now we find that outside this there is a huge Cepheid desert extending out to 8000 light years from the centre.”

This suggests that a large part of our Galaxy, called the Extreme Inner Disk, has no young stars.

Via the Royal Astronomical Society

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