The Milky Way is smaller than astronomers previously thought, according to new research. For the first time, scientists have been able to precisely measure the mass of the galaxy that contains our solar system. Researchers have found that the Milky Way is approximately half the weight of ou neighboring galaxy – Andromeda – which has a similar structure to our own. The Milky Way and Andromeda are the two largest in a region of galaxies which astronomers call the Local Group.
In this new study, researchers were also able to work out the mass of invisible matter found in the outer regions of both galaxies, and reveal their total weights. They say 90 per cent of both galaxies' matter is invisible. Scientists say that Andromeda's extra weight must be present in the form of dark matter, the little-understood invisible substance which makes up most of the outer regions of galaxies. They estimate that Andromeda contains twice as much dark matter as the Milky Way, causing it to be twice as heavy.
Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 7331 is often touted as an analog to our own Milky Way. About 50 million light-years distant in the northern constellation Pegasus, NGC 7331 was recognized early on as a spiral nebula and is actually one of the brighter galaxies not included in Charles Messier's famous 18th century catalog. Since the galaxy's disk is inclined to our line-of-sight, long telescopic exposures often result in an image that evokes a strong sense of depth. The effect is further enhanced in this sharp image from a small telescope by galaxies that lie beyond the gorgeous island universe.