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Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany have produced the first detailed three-dimensional map of the stars that form the inner regions of our Milky Way, the nuclear bulge (see p. 389).

Credit: ESO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/M. Kornmesser/R. Hurt

Using publicly available data from ESO’s VISTA survey telescope in Chile, the team found a peanut-shaped bulge with an elongated bar and a prominent X-structure, which had been hinted at in previous studies. This indicates that the Milky Way was originally a pure disk of stars, which then formed a thin bar, before buckling into the boxy peanut shape seen today.

The scientists expect that this measurement of the three-dimensional density of the bulge will help to constrain galaxy evolution models for both our Milky Way and spiral galaxies in general. It will also support a number of further studies on different stellar populations, gas flows, or microlensing.

Read the MPE press release and the ESO press release for more images and a movie simulation of the bulge rotating. The research is published as “Mapping the three-dimensional density of the Galactic bulge with VVV red clump stars” by C. Wegg et al. in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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