PacMen of the Galaxy

Posted By on January 9, 2006

In attempts to stay in sync with my daughter’s astronomy study, I’ve been doing some reading and learning. I’m barely scratching the surface in understanding this field, but find it very interesting. Our Milky Way is a phenomial site whether looked at in photos, viewed from a home telescope, or explored with the the extrodinary images returned by the Hubble Space Telescope.
14 Red Giants
The above is just a tiny section of the galaxy in an area sometimes referred to as the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ that was taken as a 2 Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS) in a project called GLIMPSE (Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire).

A team of astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md. believe they now closer to solving the intriging mystery know as the ‘warping of a galaxy’ with images such as these. At first they believed that Magellanic Clouds caused the warping but the mass was determined to be too small to be creating the large ‘bend.’ Although the mass is small, the Magellanic Clouds pass through the dark matter and create a cosmic wake powerful enough to make our galaxy bend and flap.

They have also idenified a massive star clusters in the galaxy that they believe may provide evidence that large clusterings of stars can ‘pull in’ the galaxy. In the above photo, a cluster of stars, each about 20 times more massive than sun, pull in on a galaxy. This cluster in particular is home to 14 red supergiants which are stars that are nearing the end of their lives. As they near the end, they begin to enlarge in size, ‘voraciously’ pulling in the galaxy before eventually exploding as a supernova.

Although this ‘warping of galaxies’ is not new, as scientists have known about the Milky Way’s warped nature for half a century, they have had difficulty confirming the cause.

The cluster of stars above lies 18,900 light-years away (a light year is about 6 trillion miles) in the direction of the constellation Scutum. It is the first in a survey of 130 potentially massive star clusters in the Milky Way that astronomers will study over the next five years using a variety of telescopes, including the Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes.

The Spitzer image was taken April 4, 2004; the 2MASS image (above) on July 4, 1999. (click here for a printable 8-1/2 x 11 view of the Massive Star Cluster) image below.
Massive STar Cluster


Desultory - des-uhl-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee

  1. lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful: desultory conversation.
  2. digressing from or unconnected with the main subject; random: a desultory remark.
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