There isn’t much information on how the Milky Way was formed; until recently. South African astronomers found the first known stars in the flared disk of the Milky Way galaxy.
Five stars were found and are known as Cepheid variables. These stars are situated at the far side of the galaxy, 80 000 light years from Earth and beyond the Galactic Centre, or rotational center of the Milky Way.
“The discovery is important because stars like these will allow astronomers to test theoretical ideas about how galaxies, like the Milky Way in which we live, are formed,” said SA Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) spokesperson Thembela Mantungwa.
Thembela Mantungwa added that these stars will apparently help astronomers trace the distribution of the very mysterious dark matter. Dark matter was known to be an important component of all galaxies but its nature and distribution remained elusive.
Mantungwa also said most of the stars in Earth’s galaxy, including the sun, were distributed in a flat disk. Radio astronomers in the 21st century discovered that hydrogen gas flared away from the disk at large distances from the centre of the galaxy. Until now, no one knew that stars did the same thing.
The stars were discovered by Prof Michael Feast, Dr John Menzies, and Prof Patricia Whitelock from South Africa and Dr Noriyuki Matsunaga from Japan. Observations were made with the Southern African Large Telescope and the Infrared Survey Facility, both at the SAAO site at Sutherland in the Northern Cape, as reported on News24.
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