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ScienceShot: A Bar at the Center of the Milky Way

19 December 2011 12:53 pm
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Believe it or not, there's a bar in space. But you wouldn't want to order drinks there. New observations led by astronomers at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in northern Chile confirm that about 10,000 red giant stars—which are much older and brighter than our sun—orbit the center of the Milky Way, creating what looks like a large cylindrical bar (artist's impression, shown). Other stars in that region of space presumably orbit the galactic center in a similar fashion. The research also suggests that the axis of the bar is pointed almost directly at our solar system, with our sun (which sits in a spiral arm of the Milky Way between one-half and two-thirds of the distance from the galaxy's center toward its edge) lying about 20° off the bar's axis. Perhaps the results will inspire a new drink: The Red Giant.

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