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Far-out Facts

About the

Milky Way


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When we think of where we are in the entire universe, our planet is just one a small speck. Even our solar system is one of many in the Milky Way Galaxy, and our own galaxy is one of billions in the universe. It’s hard to image how big The Great Expanse actually is. But with advanced technology, we have a better understanding of what lies in the deepest parts of space. Just in our own Milky Way Galaxy, we have numerous suns, planets, solar systems, comets, black holes, and so much more. Here are 10 interesting facts about our Milky Way Galaxy…

10. Structure And Size Of The Milky Way Galaxy

The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy with a center bulge that is surrounded by four arms that are wrapped around it. Around two-thirds of all the galaxies in The Great Expanse are shaped in a spiral. Our galaxy, as well as our solar system, is always rotating. While our solar system travels around 515,000 miles-per-hour on average, it would still take approximately 230 million years to travel around the Milky Way.

Our galaxy is around 100,000 light-years across and has a mass of between 400 and 780 billion times the mass of our own sun. 90% of its mass is believed to be dark matter.

There is a huge halo of hot gas surrounding our galaxy that stretches for hundreds of thousands of light-years. While it is believed to be as huge as all of the stars put together in the Milky Way, the halo itself only has around 2% of the amount of stars that are found inside of the disk.

And at the heart of the Milky Way galaxy is the galactic bulge which contains gas, stars, and dust that’s so thick you can’t even see into it, let alone to the other side.

9. The Andromeda Galaxy Will Eventually Collide With The Milky Way

The Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies will eventually collide into each other, but it won’t happen for a very long time. While it was previously thought that it would happen 3.75 billion years from now, newly conducted research from the ESA’s Gaia mission estimates the collision will take place in 4.5 billion years.

And we may not get hit as hard as previously thought. The new research also suggests that it won’t be a full force collision and rather a “tidal interaction,” which means that no planets or stars will collide with each other.

There is a group of more than 54 galaxies that are named the Local Group, of which Andromeda and the Milky Way are a part. These two galaxies, as well as the Triangulum Galaxy, are the three largest in the group. Andromeda is the most massive galaxy, while the Milky Way ranks second, and the Triangulum is third. Andromeda and Triangulum are both spiral galaxies and are situated between 2.5 and 3 million light years away from the Milky Way.

8. Our Galaxy Is Warped And Twisted Instead Of Being Flat

It’s always been said that our galaxy is flat as a pancake, but a recent study revealed that the Milky Way is in fact warped and twisted. The farther away the stars are from the center of the galaxy, the more they become warped and twisted in an S-like appearance.

Over 1,000 Cepheid variable stars (1,339 to be exact) were used in a study conducted by astronomers from Macquarie University as well as the Chinese Academy of Sciences. These stars became bright and dim in a manner that changed according to their luminosity. The data collected from these stars by using the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (or WISE) let astronomers create a 3D map of the true shape of our galaxy.

While the Milky Way is now confirmed to be warped and twisted, it’s not the only one out there that’s like that. While it’s not overly common, astronomers have confirmed that a dozen other galaxies in The Great Expanse have twisted spiral patterns in their outer-most areas.

7. There Are Hundreds Of Billions Of Stars In Our Galaxy

It’s tough to know exactly how many stars there are in our galaxy since the halo around the Milky Way also contains many stars. In addition, the center of our galaxy has a galactic bulge that’s filled with dust, stars, and gas, as well as a super-massive black hole which makes that area extremely thick with materials that telescopes are unable to see through it.

While around 90% of our galaxy’s mass is made up of dark matter, the majority of the remaining 10% is dust and gas, it is believe that only about 3% of the Milky Way’s mass is made up of stars. Some researchers believe that there are approximately 100 billion stars in our galaxy, while others say that there are much more – between 400 and 700 billion.

The European Space Agency’s Gaia mission is mapping out the locations of around 1 billion stars in the Milky Way, so that’s a good start.

6. There’s A Super-massive Black Hole At The Heart Of Our Galaxy

It is believed that most, if not all, galaxies have a super-massive black hole at their center and the Milky Way has one that weighs as much as 4 million suns. Sagittarius A*, which is the massive object located at the center of our galaxy, has been observed for the past several years. Although black holes can’t actually be seen, scientists study them by observing the materials that are orbiting around them.

Scientists wanted to measure the effects of gravity near the black hole so they decided to observe a small star called S2 that orbits deep within Sagittarius A*’s gravity well every 16 years. They noticed three bright flares that traveled around the black hole’s event horizon at approximately 216 million miles per hour (or 30% of the speed of light).

Scientists previously believed that there were only small and super-massive black holes, but there are in fact medium-sized (or intermediate) black holes that are rare but they do exist, and we’ll talk about that in the next entry…

5. There’s Also A Jupiter-Sized Black Hole Wandering Around Our Galaxy

New research indicates that a rare Jupiter-sized black hole is wandering around our galaxy. The data came from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (or ALMA) which includes 66 telescopes that are placed across the Atacama Desert located in the northern part of Chile.

The data consisted of the scientists observing two gas clouds, called Balloon and Stream in reference to their shapes, and what they witnessed during their two-day observation period in May 2018 was that the gas clouds were moving in an odd pattern, like they were spinning around an invisible center in a location where no light was coming from.

The team determined that the object was an uncommon medium-sized black hole that has around 30,000 times the mass of our sun and is approximately the size of Jupiter.

4. Earth Is At The Center Of The Habitable Zone In Our Galaxy

For the last two decades, astronomers have modeled the evolution of our galaxy in order to figure out the four essentials needed for complex life – the existence of a host star; a sufficient amount of heavy elements to create terrestrial planets (like Earth); enough time for biological evolution; and an environment without gamma ray bursts or life-threatening supernovae.

Almost 4,000 exoplanets and nearly 3,000 planetary systems have been confirmed to exist in our galaxy. Hundreds of those star systems have more than one planet that is within the Galactic Habitable Zone (or GHZ) and there is no doubt that many more are out there just waiting to be discovered.

And of course Earth is located at a perfect spot near the center of our galaxy’s GHZ. What’s even more interesting is that according to astrophysicists at the Australian National University, the GHZ only has about 10% of all the stars in the Milky Way.

3. There Are Almost 4,000 Exoplanets In Our Galaxy

Planets that are beyond our solar system are called exoplanets and thousands have been discovered by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope over the past several years. These exoplanets can be any size, with some being rocky and others having icy surfaces.

The Kepler Space Telescope worked to find these planets from 2009 until 2018. During that time, it discovered 2,682 exoplanets with over 2,900 possible candidates that are still waiting to be confirmed. And according to information found on NASA’s website, a total of 3,916 exoplanets (including the ones found by Kepler) have been confirmed.

Kepler ran out of gas and was officially decommissioned in November 2018. However, a new spacecraft, called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (or TESS) has taken its place to find new planets. It was launched in April of 2018 and is planning to scan around 85% of the sky in its two-year mission.

2. So Far, Almost 3,000 Planetary Systems Have Been Discovered In Our Galaxy

Another important piece of information presented on NASA’s website is that 2,917 planetary systems have already been discovered. One of those planetary systems which is very similar is our own solar system is called Kepler-90 which is located approximately 2,500 light years away from us towards the Draco Constellation.

Kepler-90 has eight planets which is the same number of planets located in our solar system. Other similarities between the two solar systems are that Kepler-90 has a G-type star which is comparable to our own sun; it has rocky planets like ours; and it has other large planets that are similar in size to Saturn and Jupiter.

One major difference between the two solar systems is that Kepler-90’s planets all orbit very close to their sun which would indicate that they may be too hot to sustain any type of life. But with further research, more planets could potentially be discovered that orbit at a further distance.

1A. Milky Way Is Only One Of Hundreds Of Billions Of Galaxies In The Universe

According to data collected from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, it was previously thought that there were around 200 billion galaxies in the universe. However, it is now believed that there are at least ten times more galaxies out there in space.

Some experts believe that around 90% of the galaxies in the observable universe are too far away and even too faint to see with our telescopes. Thankfully, the James Webb Space Telescope (or JWST) is scheduled to be launched in early 2021 which will help to see these faint galaxies and perhaps uncover even more.

Some of the tasks the JWST will conduct will be to find out what happened after the first stars were formed following the Big Bang; finding out how galaxies were formed and assembled; the birth of stars and proto-planetary systems; and understanding the atmospheres on distant planets to find out if they are habitable and can sustain life.

1B. What WIF Calls the Universe

What most folks refer to as the “Universe”, the rest of the fictional civilizations out there call it “The Great Expanse”, at least that is how  “I-Gwen” describes that wondrous-wide Creation that God set in motion. If giving God credit offends your sensibility, the “Big Bang” happened.

Whatever it is called or whoever gets the credit, it certainly boggles our little minds and this author is eternally fascinated.

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WIF Space

Black Holes, Roars, Radio Transmissions and X-Rays – Space Signals from WIF

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10 Strange Signals

Coming From Space

For over 150 years, humans have been trying to communicate with extraterrestrial life. Despite no definitive proof that anyone has tried to call us back, there has been a number of unusual signals and sounds that researchers are still trying to explain.

10. The Mystery Roar

Space is a vacuum, so there’s no sound. However, radio waves can travel through it and many celestial objects give them off — the Milky Way, for example, emits a hiss. In July 2006, researchers launched a weather balloon from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas. They were looking for signs of heat at the edge of the atmosphere where it changes into a vacuum at 120,000 feet. Instead, what they heard was a roar that was six times louder than they were expecting. The roar came from far out in the universe, and researchers are unsure of what caused it or where it came from.

9. The Chilled Out Sounds of Moon Miranda

Uranus has five moons, and the innermost is Miranda. Miranda, noted for its odd surface and shape, is called a “Frankenstein” moon because it looks like the pieces were shoved together. It’s about one-seventh the size of Earth’s moon, but has canyons that are 12 times deeper than the Grand Canyon. It’s also noted for giving off a relaxed ambient sound that was picked by Voyager 2. It was so interesting that NASA actually released an album of it.

8. The Eerie Sounds of Jupiter

Galileo is a NASA spacecraft that was launched on October 18, 1989, with the purpose of studying the solar system’s largest planet, Jupiter. On June 27, 1996, it did a flyby of one of Jupiter’s moons, Ganymede. While orbiting the moon, researchers gathered data and re-created the sound on Earth. They believe the sound comes from charged particles near the moon. Three other recordings were made byVoyager 1 (launched in September 1977) and Voyager 2 (launched in August 1977), which captured other sounds in the Magnetosphere, including lightning in the atmosphere.

7. Kepler Star Sounds

The Kepler space observatory was launched on March 7, 1999 with the goal of finding other, Earth-like planets that would hopefully be habitable. While on its journey, it has recorded data from the light curves of stars. These curves have frequencies of brightness variations that are very similar to sound frequencies. The frequencies are well out of human range, making it impossible for us to hear them, but by using a mathematical technique called Fourier analysis researchers scaled the frequencies to a level that humans can hear.

6. Radio Transmission SHGb02+14a

SETI@home is an Internet based project that takes information from the Arecibo Observatory and puts it on people’s computers. Released in 1999, it’s used as a screensaver that scans information while looking for possible signs of life.

The most promising signal found through the project is Radio Transmission SHGb02+14a, which came in March 2003. The source was observed three times, at 1420 megahertz (MHz). When first setting up the project, researchers decided to use 1420 MHz because chemicals emit signature electromagnetic frequencies and 1420 MHz is the frequency signature of hydrogen, the most common element in the universe.

The three signals came from an area between the constellations Pisces and Aries. However, the closest stars in that area are over1,000 light years away. If the signals did come from there, they travelled an incredibly long distance, which has led to some skepticism. Other people think it was just an equipment malfunction, because the transmissions were all weak. Another odd aspect of the transmissions is the way the signal drifted; it would mean they came from a planet that is rotating 40 times faster than the Earth. Researchers are still unsure what radio transmission SHGb02+14a is, but it’s the most famous signal from the SETI@home project.

5. The Strange Sounds of Saturn

Cassini–Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft that was sent to Saturn in 1997, and was the first to enter the ringed planet’s atmosphere. In April 2002, Cassini was about 234 million miles away from Saturn when it started detecting radio waves coming from auroras around the poles of Saturn. These auroras are similar to the southern and northern lights here on Earth. The eerie sounds are quite complex, with lots of rising and falling tones along with many changes in frequency and time.

4. The X-Ray Signal

Looking at a detailed study using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton, another X-ray observatory, researchers discovered an unexplained x-ray signal in the Perseus galaxy cluster. It’s a mystery as to what caused the signal, but they believe it has something to do with dark matter. Dark matter is a theoretical type of matter that astrophysicists have only been able to infer exists from the way gravity is affected by visible matter. Astrophysicists believe dark matter makes up about 26% of the universe, while visible matter only makes up about 4%. The rest of the universe is thought to be dark energy.

When astrophysicists found the x-ray wave they believed it came from sterile neutrinos, which are a type of hypothetical neutrino that’s believed to interact with normal matter only via gravity. Some astrophysicists believe that these neutrinos could help explain dark matter. They’re currently looking at more clusters to see if they can find similar x-ray signals and confirm that the hypothetical sterile neutrinos exist.

3. The Unsettling Sound of a Black Hole

Want to hear one of the most unsettling sounds ever? Check out the sound a black hole makes. The sound was created by MIT’s Edward Morgan, from data he gathered from a black hole in the GRS 1915+105 star system. The star system, which was discovered in 1992, has both regular stars and a black hole. The black hole is the largest in the Milky Way, has a mass 10 to 18 times larger than the sun, and is about 250 million light years away from Earth.

If you were looking at this in terms of music, the noise from a black hole is in B flat, but there’s no way humans could normally detect it due to its octave and frequency. It’s 57 octaves lower than middle C, and people can only hear about 10 octaves. As for the frequency, it’sway out of human range, being a million billion times deeper than anything we can perceive. In fact, it’s the deepest note ever detected from any object in the universe.

2. The Parkes Radio Telescope Bursts

When doing sweeps of the sky between February 2011 and January 2012, the Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales, Australia found four bursts of radio signals. Each of them only lasted for milliseconds, but they were incredibly powerful — as powerful as 300,000 years worth of energy from our sun. There have been similar radio bursts in the past, but they were never sure if it originated in the Milky Wayor in a neighboring galaxy. However, these bursts appeared to have come from much, much further away.

There are a few theories as to what would cause these bursts, including neutron stars with super-strong magnetic fields called magnetars colliding with each other. Other ideas are that they’re black holes that are evaporating, and gamma ray bursts involving a supernova. It could even be some new type of astrophysical event we currently don’t know about.

1. Arecibo Telescope Radio Bursts

The signals in the above entry could have been written off as a problem with the Parkes telescope. It may have been malfunctioning, or picking up radio signals from Earth. However, on November 2, 2012 at the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, they also picked up one of these fast radio bursts. Like the radio bursts detected by the Parkes telescope, these too traveled a great distance to get to Earth.

Researchers did calculations and believe these signals happen about10,000 times a day. Astrophysicists are currently building new telescopes, and using telescopes in Australia, South Africa and Canada, to try and understand why these radio signals are so frequent and what they represent.

Black Holes, Roars, Radio Transmissions and X-Rays

– Space Signals from WIF