A new map of the Milky Way is the first-ever to show the ages of the stars, and reveals that our galaxy grew from the inside out.
"Close to the center of our Galaxy, we see old stars that were formed when it was young and small. Farther out, we see young stars. We conclude that our Galaxy grew up by growing out," Melissa Ness, a postdoctoral student at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, said in a statement released by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS)
"To see this, we needed an age map spanning large distances, and that’s what this new discovery gives us."
Ness and her team presented their new study and map at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Kissimmee, Florida, last week.
The map shows off more than 70,000 stars, which are color-coded to show their age.
So-called red giant stars were of particular interest to the researchers because they are in the late stages of their life cycle, and their ages can be calculated based on their spectra, the differing wavelengths of light they emit.
"Measuring the individual ages of stars from their spectra and combining them with chemical information offers the most powerful constraints in the galaxy," said Ness, according to Space.com
"This opens up the possibility of combining ages with all of the chemistry of stars, and mapping that in unprecedented detail across the Milky Way," Ness told Gizmodo
Now that the astronomical community has this new map and dataset, it could help determine how matter formed and migrated over long periods — that is, billions of years.
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