A Vast Region Around The Centre Of The Milky Way Could Be Completely Devoid Of Young Stars

The study challenges scientists' understanding of our galaxy.
Manuelo Bececco global nature photographer via Getty Images

Astronomers claim to have discovered that a vast region of our galaxy is devoid of young stars in a groundbreaking study which promises to redefine our understanding of the Milky Way.

Scientists at the University of Tokyo believe the Extreme Inner Disk has seen no new stars for hundreds of millions of years.

The region begins just 150 light years from the galaxy’s centre but spans nearly 8,000 light years, the scientists claim.

Researchers were attempting to measure the distribution of stars within the Milky Way when they say they made the discovery.

“Our conclusions are contrary to other recent work, but in line with the work of radio astronomers who see no new stars being born in this desert,” said co-author Michael Feast.

The University of Tokyo

Locating stars is pivotal to astronomers’ understanding of how the galaxy formed and developed – and a particular type of young star is key to their work.

Cepheids, aged between 10 and 300 million years’ old, pulsate in a cycle that is linked to their luminosity, enabling astronomers to judge their distance from Earth by comparing their actual brightness to the strength of light seen from our planet.

But the interstellar dust that litters our universe makes it difficult for astronomers to spot Cepheids in the inner Milky Way.

The scientists used near-infrared observations made with a telescope in South Africa to see beyond the dust, but they found almost no Cepheids in the Extreme Inner Disk.

Tokyo University’s Professor Noriyuki Matsunaga, who led the study, said: “We already found some while ago that there are Cepheids in the central heart of our Milky Way (in a region about 150 light years in radius). Now we find that outside this there is a huge Cepheid desert extending out to 8,000 light years from the centre.”

The research was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Shortlist 2016

14
Stephen Voss
Auroral Nuggets
13
Richard Inman
Antarctic Space Station
12
Rick Whitacre
Between the Rocks
11
Tommy Richardson
Crystal Brilliance
10
Nicholas Roemmelt
Frozen Giant
9
Philippe Jacquot
ISS under Venus and the Moon
8
Ivan Eder
M8 Lagoon Nebula
7
Giles Rocholl
The northern lights illuminate the lagoon at Jokulsarlon, Iceland photo tour, February 2016
6
Sean Goebel
Parallel Mountains
5
Lee Cook
Alone
4
Katherine Young
Rise Lunation
3
Rune Engebø
Seven Magic Points
2
Melanie Thorne
The Diamond Ring
1
Michael Jäeger
The Disconnection Event