For centuries, astronomers have been extensively studying Milky Way. And yet there are still many places that have not been touched before.
Recently, Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) system of radio telescopes has been used by researchers to measure the distance to a star-forming region on the opposite side of our Milky Way Galaxy from the Sun, which almost doubles the previous record for distance measurement within our Galaxy. The achievement could pave the way for a Milky Way map that is more complete than any existing today.
“This means that using the VLBA, we now can accurately map the whole extent of our galaxy.” Alberto Sanna from Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) said.
The task of mapping our own galaxy Milky Way from Earth is certainly difficult. Because we are living inside it, we cannot see our galaxy face-on. The only way to map Milky Way is by measuring the distances to objects elsewhere in the galaxy. However, clouds of dust block our view of galaxy stars and make it difficult for us to fill in the blanks.
To solve the problem, researchers have turned to a technique called trigonometric parallax. The technique enables them to see a shift in the positions of stars from one side of the Earth’s orbit to another. The distances of stars are then calculated by using trigonometry. The closer a star looks, the farther is the distance.
As a part of latest effort, researchers measured the distance of a star-forming region more than 66,000 light-years away from Earth, easily surpassing the previous measurement record of 36,000 light-years The region, called G007.47+00.05, lies on the opposite side of the Milky Way from the Sun and VLBA observations have managed to detect the molecules of water and methanol in the region where new stars are being formed.
“The Milky Way has hundreds of such star-forming regions that include masers, so we have plenty of ‘mileposts’ to use for our mapping project, but this one is special. We’re looking all the way through the Milky Way, past its center, way out into the other side.” MPIfR’s researcher Karl Menten said.
Researchers believe they will have a far more definitive map of Milky Way within next 10 years and it could help understand the key processes that have formed our galaxy.