SA scientists discover 'void' at centre of Milky Way

2016-08-02 21:45
Milky way. (iStock)

Milky way. (iStock)

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Cape Town - A team of South African, Japanese and Italian astronomers have found that the centre of the Milky Way is completely devoid of any young stars.

The team, led by Professor Noriyuki Matsunaga of the University of Tokyo, said a major revision was required in our understanding of our Milky Way Galaxy following the discovery.

The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy containing many billions of stars, with our Sun about 26 000 light years from its centre.

“Measuring the distribution of these stars is crucial to our understanding of how our galaxy formed and evolved,” the team said in a press release on Monday.

“Pulsating stars called Cepheids are ideal for this. They are much younger than our Sun and they pulsate in brightness in a regular cycle.

“Despite this, finding Cepheids in the inner Milky Way is difficult, as the galaxy is full of interstellar dust which blocks out light and hides many stars from view.”

The team used near-infrared observations made with a Japanese-South African telescope in Sutherland, South Africa.

They said they were surprised to find hardly any Cepheids in a huge region stretching for thousands of light years from the core of the galaxy.

Matsunaga said: "We already found a while ago that there are Cepheids in the central heart of our Milky Way (in a region about 150 light years in radius).

“Now we find that outside this there is a huge Cepheid desert extending out to 8000 light years from the centre.”

Co-author Michael Feast said their conclusions were contrary to other recent work, but in line with the work of radio astronomers who saw no new stars being born in this desert.


Read more on:    cape town  |  science  |  space

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