Dark matter matters: Scientists solve weighty matter of Milky Way mass

Dark matter matters: Scientists solve weighty matter of Milky Way mass

The lightest galaxies are around a billion solar masses, while the heaviest are 30 trillion, or 30,000 times more massive.

ESA's Gaia satellite is a space telescope created to measure the positions of billions of stars with unprecedented precision. The team concluded the Milky Way has a mass of 1.54 trillion solar masses, most of it locked up in dark matter. NASA notes that the estimate of 1.5 trillion solar masses is typical of galaxies of the Milky Way's brightness.

A supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy weighs the same as four million suns and previous estimates of the Milky way's size varied enormously between 500billion to 3trillion suns.

"We just can't detect dark matter directly", Laura Watkins, who led the analysis at the European Southern Observatory, said in a statement. And there's a huge portion of the Milky Way we can never see, since it's made up of dark matter, which doesn't emit light at all. They measured the velocity of globular clusters - dense star clusters that orbit the spiral disc of the galaxy at great distances.

The global team of astronomers in this study consists of Laura L. Watkins (European Southern Observatory, Germany), Roeland P. van der Marel (Space Telescope Science Institute, USA, and Johns Hopkins University Center for Astrophysical Sciences, USA), Sangmo T. Sohn (Space Telescope Science Institute, USA), and N. Wyn Evans (University of Cambridge, UK). Those clusters orbit near the center of our galaxy.

The new mass estimate puts our galaxy on the beefier side, compared to other galaxies in the universe. However, despite decades of intense effort, even the best available estimates of the Milky Way's mass disagree wildly.

Observations from Hubble allowed faint and distant globular clusters, as far as 130,000 light-years from Earth, to be added to the study. As Hubble has been observing some of these objects for a decade, it was possible to accurately track the velocities of these clusters as well.

However, the weight of individual objects such as planets or stars is not determined in this way.

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The Milky Way contains an estimated 200 billion stars.

Located in the constellation of Hercules, about 230 million light-years away, NGC 6052 is a pair of colliding galaxies.

The Daily Galaxy via ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Adamo et al. Now, the results of the research on Milky Way's mass can open up to new answers to many astrological questions. Due to their great distances, globular star clusters allow astronomers to trace the mass of the vast envelope of dark matter surrounding our galaxy far beyond the spiral disk. "We also know that the total mass in baryons (stars and gas) is around 16%".

In a study published January 4 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, NASA scientists weighed that wind to better understand how gas and dust - two ingredients for making newborn stars - enter into extragalactic space and influence the formation of new galaxies. The rest is composed of dark matter, the undetectable stuff that makes up 80 percent of the universe.

If you have ever been to a school fete and seen a large, glass jar filled with candies, labelled "guess how many jelly beans there are", chances are you have studied it meticulously to try and work out that magic number.

Astronomers have improved their estimate of the mass of the Milky Way Galaxy by studying the movements of star clusters orbiting the Milky Way.

These findings would also help us understand the history and future of the Milky Way. "So astronomers make simulations of how the Milky Way might have formed and evolved over billions of years and then look to see which simulations end with a galaxy looks most like the Milky Way".

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