Milky Way Tweet Leads to Scientific Discovery

Milky Way

Image capturing the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

Twitter users commenting on a NASA photo let to the scientific discovery of the core of the Milky Way galaxy. The researchers were able to confirm that in the center of our galaxy lays an X-shaped group of stars.

The scientists believe that the bulge could offer new information about how the universe had been formed.

“The bulge is a key signature of formation of the Milky Way. If we understand the bulge we will understand the key processes that have formed and shaped our galaxy,” said Melissa Ness, a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and co-author of the study.

In 2015, an astronomer from University of Toronto posted on Twitter a NASA image captured by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. The spacecraft had been working since 2009 just until 2011, and these two years NASA made available all the infrared images offered by the instrument.

The project had been appreciated for the fact that it made public an incredibly valuable collection of data.

The astronomer that originated the tweet was trying to create an interactive map of distant galaxies. While presenting his ideas and the images that he intended to use in his work, some of the users observed an X-sign emerging from a star cluster in the middle of our galaxy.

Milky Way is categorized as a spiral galaxy, and while growing and collecting mass, it can form a group of orbiting stars at its center. Over time, the center can become unstable; it can divide and create a bulge.

The scientists believe that the X-shape in the heart of the Milky Way is a sign of the lump that emerged in the middle of the galaxy. The clarity of the form is considered to be a mark of the quiet life of our galaxy as if it had even encountered violent events and encounters with other galaxies, then the bulge would have been disrupted, and the shape would not have the same clarity.

The Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics Max Planck had captured images of the galaxy and calculated the X-shape of the bulge ever since 2013. However, the 2015 picture was the first one to confirm the internal structure of the gravitational group of stars and planets.

Scientists all over the world are using social media to communicate their science to the general public, to raise awareness on certain issues and to test the perception of certain matters.

However, there are other researchers that are using social media as a research environment. For example, conservation biologist used the media to survey the trade of endangered orchids, and in Singapore researchers, search selfies in hopes to get a grasp on the air pollution level.

Image Source: Flickr