Check out what this new amazing 3D map of the Milky Way tells us about our galaxy

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When we think about a map of the Milky Way we have an image of a flat disk with several spiral arms. The new study, published in the journal Science, shows that the shape of our galaxy is different than we thought.

The traditional image of the Milky Way source: NASA
Scientists selected a sample of stars known as the Cepheids, which are pulsing, massive, young stars that shine brighter than the sun. Using data from the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE), a sky survey run by the University of Warsaw, astronomers were able to pick over 2,400 of these stars and directly measure their distances and directions from the Sun. After mapping the results the scientists were able to create the most detail model of the 3D dimensions our galaxy. It turned out that it’s not flat but warped and twisted.

“The problem astronomers have typically had in studying the Milky Way is that, because we reside in it, it is hard to see the parts that are far away — we cannot move outside the Galaxy and look at it,” said Dr. Radek Poleski, a postdoctoral researcher at the Ohio State University and the University of Warsaw’s Astronomical Observatory.

“What we were able to do in this study that hasn’t been done before is to take a very large sample of objects — uniformly selected and organized — to build a model of the Milky Way.”

You might be tempted to think that modelling the shape of hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way based on 2400 sample might not be representative, however please remember that geodesy and cartography are all about modelling phenomena based on limited survey points and interpolating or extrapolating the results to the entire population. It’s the way maps are made. It’s interesting to see how the principles of cartography can be applied to map things far beyond our world.

Aleks Buczkowski
I'm a professional always thinking outside the box and a self-confessed gadget addict. As a son of a professor of cartography I was surrounded by maps all my life and as a result spatial way of thinking and seeing reality is naturally embedded in who I am.