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What Was It Like When The Milky Way Took Shape?

2 Jan 2019, 15:01 UTC
What Was It Like When The Milky Way Took Shape?
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The Sunflower Galaxy, Messier 63, tilted relative to our line-of-sight, with one half clearly appearing dustier than the other. This is an evolved spiral galaxy that hasn’t had a major merger recently, and is only somewhat more spiral-y (or flocculent) than our own. (ESA/HUBBLE & NASA)Billions of years ago, the Milky Way would have been unrecognizable. Here’s how it took its modern shape.The Milky Way galaxy may be just one of trillions in the observable Universe, but it’s uniquely special as our cosmic home. Composed of a few hundred billion stars, about a trillion solar masses worth of dark matter, a supermassive central black hole, and a plethora of gas and dust, we’re actually somewhat typical of modern galaxies. We’re neither among the biggest or the smallest galaxies, nor are we in an ultra-massive cluster or found in isolation.What does make us special, though, is how evolved we are. Some galaxies grow up quickly, exhausting their fuel and becoming “red and dead” when they lose the ability to form new stars. Some galaxies undergo major mergers, transforming from spirals into ellipticals when that occurs. And others experience enormous tidal disruptions, leading to sweeping, distended spiral arms. Not the Milky Way, ...

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