Galactic bar paradox resolved in cosmic dance

August 25, 2020

New light has been shed on a mysterious and long-standing conundrum at the very heart of our galaxy. The new work offers a potential solution to the so-called 'Galactic bar paradox', whereby different observations produce contradictory estimates of the motion of the central regions of the Milky Way. The results are published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The majority of spiral galaxies, like our home the Milky Way, host a large bar-like structure of stars in their centre. Knowledge of the true bar size and rotational speed is crucial for understanding how galaxies form and evolve, as well as how they form similar bars throughout the Universe.

However our galaxy's bar size and rotational speed have been strongly contested in the last 5 years; while studies of the motions of stars near the Sun find a bar that is both fast and small, direct observations of the Galactic central region agree on one that is significantly slower and larger.

The new study, by an international team of scientists led by Tariq Hilmi of the University of Surrey and Ivan Minchev of the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP), suggests an insightful solution to this discrepancy. Analysing state-of-the-art galaxy formation simulations of the Milky Way, they show that both the bar's size and its rotational speed fluctuate rapidly in time, causing the bar to appear up to twice as long and rotate 20 percent faster at certain times.

The bar pulsations result from its regular encounters with the Galactic spiral arms, in what can be described as a "cosmic dance". As the bar and spiral arm approach each other, their mutual attraction due to gravity makes the bar slow down and the spiral speed up. Once connected, the two structures move as one and the bar appears much longer and slower than it actually is. As the dancers split apart, the bar speeds up while the spiral slows back down.

"The controversy about the Galactic bar can then be simply resolved if we happen to be living at a time when the bar and spiral are connected, giving the illusion of a large and slow bar," comments Dr Minchev. "However the motion of the stars near the Sun remains governed by the bar's true, much smaller nature, and so those observations appear contradictory."

Recent observations have confirmed that the inner Milky Way spiral arm is currently connected to the bar, which happens about once every 80 million years according to the simulations. Data from the forthcoming 3rd data release of the Gaia mission will be able to test this model further, and future missions will discover if the dance goes on in other galaxies across the Universe.
-end-


Royal Astronomical Society

Related Data Articles from Brightsurf:

Keep the data coming
A continuous data supply ensures data-intensive simulations can run at maximum speed.

Astronomers are bulging with data
For the first time, over 250 million stars in our galaxy's bulge have been surveyed in near-ultraviolet, optical, and near-infrared light, opening the door for astronomers to reexamine key questions about the Milky Way's formation and history.

Novel method for measuring spatial dependencies turns less data into more data
Researcher makes 'little data' act big through, the application of mathematical techniques normally used for time-series, to spatial processes.

Ups and downs in COVID-19 data may be caused by data reporting practices
As data accumulates on COVID-19 cases and deaths, researchers have observed patterns of peaks and valleys that repeat on a near-weekly basis.

Data centers use less energy than you think
Using the most detailed model to date of global data center energy use, researchers found that massive efficiency gains by data centers have kept energy use roughly flat over the past decade.

Storing data in music
Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a technique for embedding data in music and transmitting it to a smartphone.

Life data economics: calling for new models to assess the value of human data
After the collapse of the blockchain bubble a number of research organisations are developing platforms to enable individual ownership of life data and establish the data valuation and pricing models.

Geoscience data group urges all scientific disciplines to make data open and accessible
Institutions, science funders, data repositories, publishers, researchers and scientific societies from all scientific disciplines must work together to ensure all scientific data are easy to find, access and use, according to a new commentary in Nature by members of the Enabling FAIR Data Steering Committee.

Democratizing data science
MIT researchers are hoping to advance the democratization of data science with a new tool for nonstatisticians that automatically generates models for analyzing raw data.

Getting the most out of atmospheric data analysis
An international team including researchers from Kanazawa University used a new approach to analyze an atmospheric data set spanning 18 years for the investigation of new-particle formation.

Read More: Data News and Data Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.