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Milky Way Is Square(ish), According To New Map 123

KentuckyFC writes "The structure of the Milky Way is notoriously difficult to work out because we see our galaxy edge on. That means nearer clouds and stars are superimposed on more distant ones and telling them apart is hard. However, astronomers have unveiled a new map based on velocity measurements made on 870 clouds of carbon monosulphide. This has revealed a number of new features of the Milky Way including a previously unknown spiral arm, some 30,000 light years from the galactic core. But the most surprising finding is that some of our galaxy's spiral arms are straight rather than curved, giving the Milky Way a distinctly square look. That's not quite as outrageous as it sounds. Astronomers know of a number of other galaxies with straight arms, such as the pinwheel galaxy M101. So ours probably looks something like this."
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Milky Way Is Square(ish), According To New Map

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  • Ohhhhhhhhhh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scosco62 ( 864264 ) * on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:33AM (#33883096) Journal
    God: Who is Globular Cluster which includes HE 1523? Kids: MilkyWay SquarePants! God: Enormous and luminous and massive is he! Kids: MilkyWay SquarePants! God: If astronomical nonsense be something you wish, Kids: MilkyWay SquarePants! God: Then call in SETI and tune in the dish! I'm really really sorry about this.......
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by boristdog ( 133725 )

      Sadly, this was pretty much along the lines of my first thoughts when I read the headline as well.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well, I've got to say one thing: at least the mods were smart enough to not recognize this as Funny.

      I only wish I was smart enough to figure out why they did give it an Insightful mod. Doesn't that directly contradict the poll results about how the average Slashdotter is smarter than average?

      Go figger.

    • by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @12:36PM (#33883838) Homepage Journal
      I've never had the motivation to put someone on my 'foes' list on Slashdot before. This however, has come very close to changing that. I will have this god-awful rubbish stuck in my head all day thanks to you. Now please excuse me while I try to get it out of my brain using a belt sander and a turkey baster....
    • by Hylandr ( 813770 )
      How much longer until we discover our existence occupies a locker in some hub of interstellar transportation?

      - Dan.
  • Honestly, looks more like a circle/square - an Octagon to me.

    But hey, I am not 100,000 light years away to make that kind of judgement.

    Here is a nice photo of the Milky Way [wikimedia.org] just for fun...
  • Milky Way (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Theoboley ( 1226542 ) <theoboley&hotmail,com> on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:36AM (#33883134) Homepage

    I thought it was brown, about 4 inches long, and had a swirled pattern on top of it...

    • And after centuries of tireless efforts, astronomers finally discovered that the central structure of the Milky Way is bar-shaped. Let's see how long it will take for them to substantiate the claim that it's also delicious.
      • Meh, it's probably too sweet.

        When are they going to find the Milky Way Dark galaxy? That's what I want to know!

    • by sharkey ( 16670 )
      You should flush it before you barf in it.
  • Misleading article (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ral ( 93840 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:37AM (#33883140)
    The article has a picture of a galaxy with no caption. A casual reader will assume the picture is of our own galaxy, but it is actually a picture of M101.
  • Note that the straight areas are orthogonal to the center and then begin their rotational curve somewhat further out. This implies that the material in those arms was ejected at a greater speed than the arms closer in. It also means that those arms are younger than others since the straight areas have not had time to settle into a standard curved shape.

    Pretty cool stuff, /.

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @12:53PM (#33884058)

      Galactic arms aren't ejected from the core. They're just waves of star formation. They appear bright because they have more young, bright stars than the areas between arms.

  • (Speaking of spiral galaxies...) in the olden days, we used to call that svastika-shaped...
  • A Barred spiral (Score:5, Informative)

    by pinguwin ( 807635 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:42AM (#33883226)
    Evidence of a few years ago, revealed that the Milky Way was a barred spiral, http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap050825.html [nasa.gov], wonder how these two findings will mix.
    • Given that it's the Milky Way, they should've figured that square bars would come into it somewhere. I'm anticipating white fluffy stuff and/or nougat in the core depending on where the discoveries are made.

    • From the summary, "So ours probably looks something like this."

      My only comment is that it does probably look something like M101, right up until somebody discovers something else that makes it look like a dodecahedron...I just like saying dodecahedron :)
    • by sznupi ( 719324 )

      Great, going into the direction of one ancient symbol, still popular in large parts of Asia but somewhat infamous for the last half a century in our cultural sphere...

      (maybe not that strange though - one of the hypotheses is that galaxies, in the times when it was still possible to see them without light pollution, are what inspired it)

      • by aiht ( 1017790 )
        Regardless of light pollution, no spiral galaxies have ever been visible (as spirals) to the naked eye.
        I've seen M31 (Andromeda) with the naked eye, and it certainly didn't make me think of a swastika - more a smudge.
        • by sznupi ( 719324 )

          Or maybe that was supposed to be some peculiar comet that got nearby Earth in ancient times? Anyway, doesn't stop it from being funny / weird / complicated in the future, when we have long-duration photographs... (when the spiral structure of Andromeda isn't very apparent anyway)

    • That only references the core of the galaxy, not the shape of the spiral arms. The picture itself is just an artist's representation (unlike the article, which is a picture of a completely different galaxy).

  • Who lives in a Universe near M33 "Milky Way SquareGalaxy" Full of main sequence stars are we "Milky Way SquareGalaxy" If M class planets be something you wish "Milky Way SquareGalaxy" Then take a trip to our galactic dish "Milky Way SquareGalaxy" READY "Milky Way SquareGalaxy" "Milky Way SquareGalaxy" "Milky Way SquareGalaxeeeeeeeeee"
  • Bizarro Galaxy (Score:4, Informative)

    by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:42AM (#33883232) Homepage Journal

    I think I've seen this kind of thing before... squares and octagons instead of circles and elipses. That's right, it was in Superman comics I read as a kid. We live in the Bizarro Galaxy.

    • That explains so much.

    • by Nyder ( 754090 )

      I think I've seen this kind of thing before... squares and octagons instead of circles and elipses. That's right, it was in Superman comics I read as a kid. We live in the Bizarro Galaxy.

      That would explain the slashdot story about Apple's text filtering patent and all anyone was commenting on was parenting skills...

  • Not news (Score:1, Interesting)

    The article is describing a "barred spiral" galaxy. Not only have these been observed, but it's been theorized for some time the Milky Way is one.
    • Yes news. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @12:16PM (#33883630) Homepage

      No, the article is not describing a barred spiral galaxy. A barred spiral [wikipedia.org] is one where there is a strong bar of stars across the galactic core (and extending well beyond it), and then "normal" spiral arms extend outward (mostly) from the two ends of the bar. The Milkyway is indeed thought to be a barred spiral.

      What the article is describing is a spiral galaxy where the spiral arms themselves are straight in parts. And yes these have been observed (as shown in TFA where the Pinwheel galaxy is pictured, notice the lack of a central bar), but no it was not as far as I know theorized that the Milkyway had such a structure until now. Thus, news.

      • by jez9999 ( 618189 )

        No, the article is not describing a barred spiral galaxy. A barred spiral is one where there is a strong bar of stars across the galactic core

        I think we now have a pretty good idea that at the galactic core is Steve [nocookie.net].

  • by gmuslera ( 3436 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:54AM (#33883400) Homepage Journal
    welcome our new nazi galactic overlords.
  • Now we have real evidence: all of this is a gigantic Tetris game.
  • Alrighty, well this will make divvying up the galaxy into quadrants. I recommend a simple naming scheme: Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Gamma. Umm... I'm not sure where the Neutral Zone should go.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by gstoddart ( 321705 )

      Umm... I'm not sure where the Neutral Zone should go.

      Ummmm ... isn't the Neutral Zone still in the Alpha quadrant?

      That should cover the Federation, Cardassians, Romulans and Klingons at least, no? It's not like it's "somewhere else", it's just a buffer zone between people already in the Alpha Quadrant.

  • as long as it's not a rhombus.


  • It's a cube, not a square. If scientists go around saying it's a square shape, then everyone will think the galaxy is flat.
    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      Um, it is flat. While it has three dimensions, the spin causes most of the mass to be distributed at a plane, much like a hand-tossed Pizza.

      See (*points*) here: we live right next to this piece of mushroom near the edge.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jandrese ( 485 )
      But if the Galaxy if flat and the Earth is in the Galaxy, that means the Flat Earth Society was right all along!

      Insane theories 1, regular theories like a million.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by nschubach ( 922175 )

      They already think that space is a large chunk of fabric with giant marbles on it...

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        They already think that space is a large chunk of fabric with giant marbles on it...

        Giant marbles? More like tiny grains of sand that happen to also be fusion reactors with dust grains in the sand grains' orbits. Compared to galaxies, stars are tiny. Compared to the universe, galaxies are tiny.

        • Every experiment/example I've seen to explain Einstein's Space-Time theory has involved a large sheet of fabric with giant balls being pushed around.

          Tiny grains of sand and dust would make for bad television.

  • by MonsterTrimble ( 1205334 ) <monstertrimble@hotmail . c om> on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @12:04PM (#33883508)

    First off, the photo in the article is of the M101 Pinwheel Galaxy, not the Milky Way. Misleading, especially when you have to read all the way down to find out that tidbit and when the title includes 'New Map' we want to see the new map.

    Secondly, we've known for quite some time that the Milky Way isn't a classic spiral. This Article gives a pretty interesting breakdown plus actual pictures [galaxymap.org].

  • My physics intuition (which unsurprisingly probably doesn't work well on things the size of galaxies) tells me that even if I magically started with a straight-line structure, it would immediately start to become curved, as the closer-to-the-center stars orbit faster than the further out ones. No? How can these straight structures exist? And yeah, now that I think of it, that goes for "bar" galaxies too. WTF?

    • by Sloppy ( 14984 )

      Now that i think of it, central bars aren't necessarily crazy, provided they aren't "spinning," but instead, the stars are just moving toward or away from the center. But that's not what really happens, is it?

    • I'm still not convinced that it's a bar as much as it's two large clusters on opposite sides of the center that are "throwing off the measurements." I can only speculate though.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      First, the galaxy doesn't work like the solar system - the orbital velocity of stars doesn't depend strongly on their distance from the centre.

      Second, the arms aren't believed to be persistent structures formed from individual stars but density waves that cause increased star formation where they pass. So the arms appear to be very distinct because they have more young, bright stars in them while the space between arms is more older, dimmer stars.

    • You do realize it takes billions of years for gravity to make any changes at these distances right?

      They can "stay straight" for longer than our planets existence and still ultimately be smoothed out.

    • hmmm, I dunno, maybe by not coming near any other stars?

      o, and by not going to those "bar" galaxies...

  • by rwllama ( 587787 )
    To see the plot, read the paper [arxiv.org] (PDF), not the article. Figure 4 does not look like a square to me. Figure 7 has some squarish shapes drawn over the plot, but it is not highly convincing. Further, these squarish orbits appear in the inner parts of the Galaxy, not the outer shape as one might assume. Orbital shapes change with radius as different gravitational resonances dominate at different distances.
  • by Odonian ( 730378 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @12:31PM (#33883772)
    Notch will approve.
  • Now we know why no extresstrial civilization has made contact with us. We are the nerdy square sitting in the corner at the dance, with a pocket protector full of pencils.

  • where is the stargate map?

  • Swastika, then???

    OMG the ancients were right!

  • Pictures of our galaxy would be prohibited in Germany then, I guess.
  • by jitterman ( 987991 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @01:17PM (#33884390)
    All the cool galaxies staying way the hell away from us and all.
  • "Astronomers know of a number of other galaxies with straight arms, such as the pinwheel galaxy M101. So ours probably looks something like this."

    Astronomers know of spirals and barred spirals. TFA says SOME of the arms are straight. There aren't many 'both' spirals. Most likely the different shapes of arms represent this galaxy's original arms and those of the galaxy it absorbed, in which our sun originated. Compared to the problems of evolving differently shaped arms, this is the simpler explanation, and

  • by PhxBlue ( 562201 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @02:32PM (#33885458) Homepage Journal
    Be there and be square!
  • Sooo... the Milky Way is a Na.... DAMN! Beat me to it.
  • So basically, our galaxy is rendered in a 3d skybox [wikipedia.org]?

    Hey God! 1999 called...


  • Slashdot is being disingenuous; it has already received a detailed explanation of what causes Barred Galaxies; but they, like the entire scientific community, refuse to give such explanation any publicity. May I suggest everyone turn to a past issue, (July 2004), of Scientific American; The Extraordinary Deaths of Ordinary Stars by Bruce Balick and Adam Frank, Ten page article ending with the remark: "this opens the door to a new disruptive theory" but does not mention whose.... disruptive theory. If I soun
  • What is this nonsense about galaxies?
    I thought our world was carried through space on giant turtle. More specifically, the world rests on four great elephants standing on the giant turtle. The giant turtle just swims happily through space. The astrozoologists are still trying to figure out the details.

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