JPL Researchers use Twitter, visualize Milky Way “X”

JPL Researchers use Twitter, visualize Milky Way “X”

PASADENA — Researchers turned to Twitter in their quest for information about the structure of Milky Way and came up with a surprising answer based on JPL data: Stars in the heart of our galaxy form the shape of an “X”.

The answer came from data collected by NASA’s Wide-field Infrares Survey Explorer (WISE). The mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

According to a JPL press release, Dustin Lang, an astronomer at the Dunlap Institute of the University of Toronto, posted galaxy maps to Twitter, using data from WISE’s two infrared surveys of the entire sky in 2010.

It was the Milky Way’s appearance in the tweets that got the attention of other astronomers.
Melissa Ness, a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, recognized the significance of the X shape, and contacted Lang, the JPL press release noted.

The two met a few weeks later at a conference in Michigan, and decided to collaborate on analyzing the bulge using Lang’s WISE maps. Their work resulted in a new study published in the Astronomical Journal confirming an X-shaped distribution of stars in the bulge.

Researchers used data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission to highlight the X-shaped structure in the bulge of the Milky Way. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/D.Lang

Researchers used data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission to highlight the X-shaped structure in the bulge of the Milky Way. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/D.Lang

“The bulge is a key signature of formation of the Milky Way,” said Ness, the study’s lead author. “If we understand the bulge we will understand the key processes that have formed and shaped our galaxy.”

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