Milky Way galaxy only half as massive as thought
- Highest earners in 75% rural households earned below Rs 5K: SECC
- Ex-RAW chief's revelation: Congress seeks PM's apology for Gujarat riots
- Hema Malini's car accident: Victim's family upset with BJP MP
- Kandahar operation: BJP dismisses ex-RAW chief's claims of 'goof-up'
- Gujarat HC dismisses petition against PM Narendra Modi for filing defective affidavit
The Milky Way galaxy, home to our solar system, may actually be only half as massive as currently believed, scientists say.
Stars in the far outer reaches of the Milky Way, between 260,000 and 490,000 light-years from the galactic centre, are cruising around surprisingly slowly, researchers found.
Galactic mass and star velocities are linked, so the results could have big implications, Space.com reported.
"Because these velocities are so low, the mass of our galaxy may be much lower than we once thought," lead author Alis Deason, of the University of California, Santa Cruz said at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, California.
"If we infer the properties of the stars that we think are reasonable, then we find the mass of the Milky Way could be half as massive as we currently believe," added Deason, who performed the research while at the University of Cambridge in England.
The Milky Way is composed of three main parts: a central bulge, a relatively flat disk and a roughly spherical surrounding halo.
Deason and colleagues looked far out into the Milky Way's halo, which extends far beyond the 100,000-light-year-wide disk.
They measured the radial velocities of a sample of distant halo stars using two different instruments: the European Southern Observatory's 8.2-meter telescope in Chile and the 4.2-meter William Herschel Observatory in Spain.
They found that the dispersion, or spread, of halo-star velocities was about half that seen for stars closer to the galactic centre.
Using this information, the team calculated that the total mass of the Milky Way out to such extreme distances may be between 500 billion and 1 trillion times that of our Sun - substantially lower than the current leading estimate, Deason said.
But the new study is not necessarily the final word on the Milky Way's mass, which is not well understood.