Until the mid-1900’s, questions about space were continually speculative. The difficulty of finding answers was limited by the inaccessibility of technology to go beyond the telescopes and into the actual atmosphere. But technological innovations since then have answered a lot of questions, and opened up the field of astronomy to a lot more of them.
One of the latest space research endeavors has been focused on the edge of the Milky Way. Now that we’ve found what scientists believe is the edge, it appears to be surrounded by a lot of other galaxies. This begs a lot of new questions, but answers some of astronomy’s previous mysteries.
What Makes Up a Galaxy?
By the time we’re adults, we know we live in the Milky Way Galaxy inside a universe filled with other galaxies. Every galaxy has a solar system full of planets that revolve around a sun. But the other parts of the galaxy aren’t as commonly discussed.
A galaxy consists of an immense collection of gas and dust, along with billions of stars. Each star has a solar system, and all of this is held together by an invisible force called gravity.
It’s a simplified explanation of what is actually a very complex scientific mechanism. How does something as simple as gravity hold together billions and billions of stars, and how does all of the dust and gas inside the galaxy play a part in the formation of meteors, meteorites, and even planets?
These questions are continually studied by astronomers, and as they’ve been increasing their technological advancements, they’ve been finding dozens of new questions for every answer they come up with. The most innovative and recent equipment has taken us all the way to the edge of the Milky Way, revealing surprising information about the surrounding galaxies.
Why the Edge of the Milky Way is a Major Finding
Our generations today are used to being able to see the entire Milky Way Galaxy in pictures. This gives the impression that it’s a lot smaller than it actually is, and finding the edge of the galaxy with satellites doesn’t seem that big of a deal. When you realize that the galaxy is spread out over two million light-years across, it puts it in perspective a little more clearly that this is, in fact, quite a big deal.
Finding the edge of the galaxy helps scientists measure the area and explore the surrounding objects that interact with our galaxy’s orbit. Previously, the halo of dark matter that stretches beyond the stellar disk of stars, where our sun is stationed, was impossible to measure because it didn’t emit any light. But the use of computer technology to explore nearby galaxies and their behavior has helped astrophysicists at Durham University in England to find the edge of the Milky Way and measure it to a precise number - 1.9 million light years, plus or minus 0.4 million light years.
The Potential to Unlock Other Answers
With these new measurements and the computer programs that explore the behavior of galaxies around the Milky Way, astronomers can learn more about galactic properties and locate more galaxies revolving around ours. Right now, we know about the Andromeda Galaxy and some others that have helped us to understand how the universe is set up. But by learning the dimensions of the Milky Way, scientists hope to unlock the identification of others.
Computer simulations of the formation of galaxies show that gravity plays an integral part in how they’re formed. The speed of galaxies can be used to find the edges, and those outer boundaries are then traced, and dark matter followed, to continually locate new and unknown galaxies.
While we may not be able to explore these areas in our lifetimes, knowing how galaxies work and which ones are out there could eventually unlock the key to some of the major mysteries surrounding the largest question of all: the origin of the universe.