Photo in the News: Bar at Center of Milky Way

Illustration: Milky Way galaxy
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August 17, 2005—Say what you will about our space real estate, at least we don't live in a dry galaxy. Scientists say a bar 27,000 light-years long cuts through the center of the Milky Way.

A thin band of relatively old stars, the feature (represented by the bright, diagonal band at the center of the above illustration) is uncommon among spiral galaxies. Astronomers confirmed its presence after conducting the most detailed analysis ever made of the Milky Way. Led by researchers in Wisconsin, the team used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to survey 30 million stars.

Scientists had debated whether stars in our inner galaxy clustered in a long bar, an oval, or a combination of the two shapes. Astronomers who observed the stellar bar are no doubt toasting their find.

—Sean Markey

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