Earth’s Milky Way Galaxy Neighborhood Upgraded By Radio Telescope Discovery

The Earth’s neighborhood in the Milky Way galaxy got an upgrade. On Monday afternoon, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory made this announcement: “Our Solar System’s Milky Way neighborhood just went upscale.”

Our solar system is located in a beautiful spiral galaxy similar to the much larger M101 galaxy that you can see in the top photograph. However, we don’t live in one of the major spiral arms. For years, astronomers have believed that we lived in an inconsequential spur between two very large arms.

This minor spur which includes our average sun and our smallish earth is called the Local Arm, and it just wasn’t considered a very impressive part of the Milky Way.

It might seem strange, but it’s easier to see what other galaxies look like from the outside. It’s hard to get a feel for the real structure of the immediate area of the Milky Way all around the Earth because we’re on the inside looking out.

Therefore, the National Science Foundation continued to study the problem with the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) — a system of ten radio telescopes spanning over 5,000 miles that provide an extremely focused view of radio waves.

The result of the new study shows that the Local Arm has more to it than we thought. “Our new evidence suggests that the Local Arm should appear as a prominent feature of the Milky Way,” said Alberto Sanna, one of the astronomers who worked on the study.

While the Local Arm still isn’t one of the biggest arms of the Milky Way, it’s much more substantial than we previously understood. It could be a significant branch of one of the two major arms surrounding us.

The researchers provided before and after images to show off Earth’s new upgrade. You can definitely see more of a spiral arm development in the after picture.

local arm milky way galaxy

No wonder all of the Space Brothers keep sending those pesky UFOs to Earth. We’ve got one of the better Milky Way neighborhoods.

[CREDIT: Robert Hurt, IPAC; Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF.]

[top photo giant galaxy M101 courtesy NASA, ESA, K. Kuntz (JHU), F. Bresolin (University of Hawaii), J. Trauger (Jet Propulsion Lab), J. Mould (NOAO), Y.-H. Chu (University of Illinois, Urbana), and STScI via]