The Tech Herald

Andromeda not so massive as Milky Way bulks up

by Stevie Smith - Jan 6 2009, 18:31

Milky Way not dwarfed by Andromeda after all. Image: NASA.

Contrary to the established beliefs of astronomers everywhere, it has emerged this week that our own humble Milky Way is considerably bigger than first thought when compared to other nearby galaxies.

According to scientists who have used three-dimensional technology to create a much more detailed map of the Milky Way, it is some 15 percent bigger in breadth and around 50 percent larger in terms of mass.

In terms of evaluating the new discovery, Mark J. Reid of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, commented that it was the equivalent of him suddenly growing from 5ft 5in and 10 stone to a notably more significant 6ft 3in and 15 stone.

The stargazing astronomers were able to more accurately gauge the Milky Way’s size and mass by utilising 10 radio telescope antennas known as the Very Long Baseline Array, which measured the galaxy’s brightest newborn stars at different times during the Earth’s orbit of the sun.

By applying the dimension of time to conventional location-based mapping techniques, Mr. Reid and his colleagues discovered the Milky Way is spinning around its central point at 568,000mph, which is considerably faster than the 492,000mph the scientific community previously held to for decades.

The marked increase in size and mass also places the Milky Way on more of an even physical footing with its neighbouring galaxy Andromeda, which was thought to be substantially bigger than our own system.

“We thought we were like a little sister of Andromeda,” said Mr. Reid. “Now we’re like fraternal twins.”

The scientific findings were reported at a recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, California.

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