For decades, scientists have been trying to find out what exactly our Milky Way looks like.
Although we still don’t actually know for sure, at least the far portion of it anyways, a new discovery may have just revealed what shape our galaxy is.
For the very first time, the far side of the Milky Way has been seen and now we can begin mapping out what it actually looks like.
The astounding findings, which have been published in the journal Science, sees scientists measuring the distance to a group of stars that are on the complete opposite side of the galaxy.
The team used a group of 10 telescopes, spread across the whole of North America, known as the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA).
With these telescopes, they measured the distance to a star-forming region called G007.47+00.05, which is very far away in the Scutum Centaurus Arm of our galaxy.
So yes, we do now know our galaxy does have an arm and more importantly, it’s not flat but instead goes up and down.
The technique, known as ‘parallax’, allows scientists to measure distance by noting how the angle to the distant region changes when Earth was on opposite sides of the Sun.
If the angle is small, the distance is great.
Interstellar dusts block optical light, meaning seeing the far side of the galaxy is a difficult task.
However, these scientists traced the movements of methanol and water molecules in the region to avoid this problem.
Now we know it’s 66,000 light-years away, based on observations made in 2014 and 2015.
Alberto Sanna from the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Germany, the study’s lead author, told IFLScience:
This measurement corresponds to being able to measure a baseball on the lunar surface.
We are essentially measuring the distance to an object which is located on the other side of the galaxy with respect to the Sun.
The previous record the technique measured was 36,000 light-years.
This amazing discovery was a part of a larger survey called ‘BASSAL’.
Its goal is to measure the distances to star-forming regions all the way through the Milky Way in order to construct a full view of our galaxy within the next 10 years.
The problem of course is many of these regions are a million light-years away.
This finding is the first result from the survey and has already got scientists around the world excited.
Now the team hopes to complete the rest of the survey with about a quarter of the galaxy left uncharted.