Milky Way weighs about 1.5 trillion solar masses

10 March, 2019, 01:40 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • Astronomers weigh the galaxy with Hubble and Gaia

In the current study, astronomers used new data sets which included the weight of dark matter. The team concluded the Milky Way has a mass of 1.54 trillion solar masses, most of it locked up in dark matter.

Pervious estimates put the mass of the Milky Way ranging between 500 billion and 3 trillion times the mass of the Sun. The large discrepancies between the mass estimates arose mainly from the different methods used for measuring the distribution of dark matter - the elusive material which makes up about 90 percent of the mass of the galaxy.

"We were surprised that our value fell in the middle of the very wide range of previous estimates", study leader Laura Watkins of the European Southern Observatory tells Dvorsky. This latest mass measurement of the Milky Way weighs in at 1.5 trillion times heavier than our sun. "The more massive a galaxy, the faster its clusters move under the pull of its gravity" N. Wyn Evans of the University of Cambridge in United Kingdom explains. While previous measurements have been along the line to sight to globular clusters, astronomers know the speed at which a globular cluster is approaching or receding from Earth.

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'However, we were able to also measure the sideways motion of the clusters, from which the total velocity, and consequently the galactic mass, can be calculated'. Combining the data from the measurements allowed astronomers to estimate the galaxy's mass as far as 1 million light-years from Earth. What scientists do know about its contents is that there is a 4-million-solar-mass supermassive black hole anchored at the centre of the galaxy. Gaia has been creating a 3D map of the galaxy's astronomical objects and tracking their movements since its mission began in 2014.

Estimating the mass of the Milky Way is tricky because most of the matter it contains is invisible. "We could pin down the Milky Way's mass in a way that would be impossible without these two space telescopes". Scientists expect Gaia to eventually provide accurate positional and radial velocity measurements and to produce a kinematic and stereoscopic census of approximately one billion stars in the galaxy and throughout the Local Group. Those clusters orbit near the center of our galaxy. The milky way's mass of 1.5 trillion solar masses is comparatively normal for a galaxy of its brightness. Accurately determining the mass for the Milky Way gives us a clearer understanding of where our galaxy sits in a cosmological context. Data from the Gaia mission is key with measurements of these globular clusters extending up to 65,000 light-years away from Earth, while the observations from Hubble added data from globular clusters as far as 130,000 light-years from the planet. Since Hubble has been observing some of these objects for ten years, it was also possible to accurately track the velocities of these clusters as well. Tony Sohn, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute. Gaia telescope can scan a much larger region of sky but can't see at relatively larger distances. "We're inside the Milky Way, stuck about halfway out from the center, and everything we learn about it we learn from right here".

'We were lucky to have such a great combination of data, ' explained Roeland van der Marel of the Space Telescope Science Institute in the US. But as Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy blog notes, measuring the mass of the Milky Way is much more hard because we are inside it and can't get the big picture, literally.

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