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Milky Way not your typical spiral

Enid News & Eagle — Joe Malan Enid News & Eagle, Okla.

June 19--Did you know the Milky Way has a huge bar?

Excellent! Now that I've grabbed your attention, let's talk about astronomy!

When I'm talking about a bar, in relation to the Milky Way galaxy, I'm, of course, not talking about a place where you go to drink. Rather, it's a reference to the structure of our (and other) galaxies.

When you think about our galaxy, what comes to mind? Do you think of a giant pinwheel spinning in space? That's definitely one way you could look at it. Perhaps you could compare its shape to hurricanes and similar cyclonic or anticyclonic storms on Earth. There is a center, and then the arms of the structure spiral outward, pointing in all directions.

There is a big difference, however, between these pictures of what many believe the Milky Way galaxy looks like versus reality.

The truth of the matter is, the Milky Way does not have a circular bulge in the center.

That probably goes against everything you were taught growing up, whether you're a young adult or older. I know when I was growing up, all of the books on astronomy I picked up showed the galaxy being something completely circular in nature.

But in the past several decades, astronomers' view of the structure of our home galaxy has changed. Those suspicions were later all but confirmed by the Spitzer Space Telescope in the early 2000s.

Rather than being circular, the Milky Way's central region actually is in the shape of an enormous bar, spanning about 27,000 light years.

If extraterrestrials from another galaxy were traveling to the Milky Way, astronomers believe the attached illustration is what these visitors would see. In contrast to the Andromeda Galaxy or Triangulum Galaxy, our nextdoor spiral neighbors, the Milky Way is actually classified as a barred spiral galaxy.

If we're really getting technical, the Milky Way would be classified as an SBc type galaxy. SB denotes the barred spiral category, and there are different subtypes of barred spirals, just as there are for regular spiral galaxies, and even elliptical galaxies, too.

Knowing our galaxy has this large, central bar, perhaps it is indeed appropriate that our galaxy is called the Milky Way.

Milky Way bar? Get it ...?

I'll go ahead and show myself out.


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