The “river of stars streaming through the Milky way was hiding in plain sight for 1 billion years

In this stereographic projection, the Galaxy bends the entire image in an arc, with the newly discovered river of stars is shown in red, and that almost the entire southern Celestial hemisphere.
(Astronomy & Astrophysics)

A billion years ago, a cluster of stars formed in our galaxy. Since then that cluster has beaten four long circles around the edge of the Milky way . In that time, the Milky way, the gravity has stretched cluster from a blob in a long stellar stream. Now, the star pass relatively close to Earth, at only about 330 light-years away. And scientists say that the river of stars can help to determine the mass of the entire Galaxy..

Astronomers have seen these stars before, mixed with a lot of the stars all around them. But until now, they are not aware of the stars were part of a group. The river, which is 1,300 light-years long and 160 light-years wide, the wind through the Milky way in the vast, dense star field. But 3D mapping data from Gaia , a European Space Agency spacecraft, showed that the stars in the stream moved along at about the same speed and in the same direction.

“The identify of the nearby disk streams is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. The astronomers have looked, and through this new power for a long time, since it covers the most of the night sky, but only now realize that it is there and it is huge, and shockingly close to the sun”, says João Alves, an astronomer at the University of Vienna and the second author of the paper, said in a statement. [The Great Numbers That Define Our Universe]

Although the space is full of these stellar streams , they are often difficult to study because they are well camouflaged among the surrounding stars. Typically, these stellar streams are also much further away.

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“Finding things close to home is very useful, they are not too faint and not too fuzzy for a more detailed exploration, [a] astronomer’s dream,” Alves said.

Scientists suspect that the star clusters, such as that eventually this stellar stream can show how the galaxies and their stars. But in a large, heavy galaxy like the Milky way, these clusters are usually fragmented, with the force of gravity pulls individual stars in different directions. [Amazing Astronomy: Victorian-Era Illustrations of the Heavens]

This stream is large enough, and heavy enough, that it is intact (albeit stretched) in the billion-years around the galactic center. And there may be more star power than that found in the first Gaia data.

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Originally published on Live Science.

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