New Milky Way Map Created; Shows Fewer Main Arms

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In particular, dust and gases tend to obscure much of our view of the galaxy's structure.

The new map is based primarily on data collected from infrared cameras on the Spitzer Space Telescope.

"Using these wavelengths of light, you can see through the dust and begin to actually glimpse at the true structure of our galaxy," John Gallagher, an expert on galaxy evolution at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said at the briefing.

The sharp resolution of these cameras also allows astronomers to see how massive stars evolve and how cosmic structures take shape.

"You can really start to see individual objects, a few structures … and really start to understand what's going on in our galaxy," said Sean Carey, who works with one of the cameras at the Spitzer Science Center in Pasadena, California.

Radio Telescope Survey

The map also includes data on the density and location of the arms from the Very Long Baseline Array, a network of ten radio telescopes.

"We are beginning now to trace out the spiral structure of the Milky Way with solid distances," said Mark Reid of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Thomas Dame, also of the CfA, presented the discovery of an unusual spiral arm called the Far 3-kiloparsec that hugs the galaxy's central bar.

The short arm appears to be a mirror image of the Near 3-kiloparsec arm on the opposite side of the galactic center, ending a 50-year search for the twin.

"Just knowing that we have these two lovely symmetric spiral arms deep in the inner galaxy," he said, "gives us some faint hope that perhaps we live in one of the rare beautiful bispiral galaxies."

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