Milky Way's Warped Shape Revealed By 3D Map

In one of today’s latest scientific developments, scientists are able to bring into light what our own Milky Way galaxy is really shaped like. It is shaped like a potato chip, contorted and warped at the edges.

This fascinating new observation is courtesy of a new 3-D map that came from measurements of special stars that are called Cepheids.

Misshapen Potato Chip

Sure, the shape in itself is nothing to write home about and isn’t fascinating all by itself (or it might be to some people, we never know), but it’s the fact that we’re finally able to find out our galaxy’s shape is what makes it exciting. In itself, making three-dimensional measurements of a galaxy, any galaxy, requires the estimation of how far stars are from our planet. And if that doesn’t seem hard enough, the measurement of these distances previously took a lot of guesswork.

However, thanks to Cepheids, all of this is now possible. That’s because unlike other stars, the brightness of Cepheids vary over time and in such a particular way that it can be easily used to gauge the precise distance of each star to another. This made it possible to render a 3-D map that reveals our very own Milky Way has curved edges. It’s so flat in fact. According to astronomer Dorota Skowron of the Astronomical Observatory of the University of Warsaw , “you could see by eye” that it’s misshapen, given that you take a spaceship far enough to look back the galaxy’s entirety.

The observations that were made by Skowron, along with colleagues, are all part of the OGLE program, which stands for Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment. By combining the new measurements they made with previous information about Cepheids and their nature, the team was able to make a map that charted more or less 2,431 stars.

Furthermore, the 3-D map also allowed the scientists to be able to estimate how old the stars are as well as how their placement in the galaxy is related to it. This amount of understanding led scientists to get a better view of how the galaxy’s current structure came to be.

Milky Way A picture taken late on August 12, 2018 shows meteors crossing the night sky past the Milky Way during the annual 'Perseid' meteor show, in the mountain area of Tannourine in northern Lebanon. The Event Horizon Telescope team is set to surprise the world with a "groundbreaking result" at a press conference in Washington, D.C., on April 10. Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images