The Milky Way may be larger than scientists expected

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A new discovery has scientists believing the Milky Way galaxy might actually be larger than they previously thought.

According to new research, the Milky Way isn't quite shaped like a spiral. Not only that, but it's now believed to be 30 percent larger than what scientists initially thought.

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Researchers calculate that the galaxy stretches more than 20,000 light-years across, roughly four times what scientists had thought before. That's still a lot shorter than the major arms.

The research concludes the galaxy is not so much a spiral but more of a chaotic shape containing many branches and spurs.

The Milky Way is comprised of four arms of gas, stars and dust that shoot out from the center. And our corner of the galaxy, called the Local Arm, is much larger than they suspected.

Also see these incredible images:

6 PHOTOS
Gorgeous new Milky Way image maps our galaxy's dust
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Gorgeous new Milky Way image maps our galaxy's dust

A spectacular new image of the Milky Way has been released to mark the completion of the APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy (ATLASGAL). The APEX telescope in Chile has mapped the full area of the Galactic Plane visible from the southern hemisphere for the first time at submillimetre wavelengths — between infrared light and radio waves — and in finer detail than recent space-based surveys. The pioneering 12-metre APEX telescope allows astronomers to study the cold Universe: gas and dust only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero.

(Photo via ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck)

The southern plane of the Milky Way from the ATLASGAL survey.

(Photo via ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck)

The southern plane of the Milky Way from the ATLASGAL survey (annotated).

(Photo via ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck)

Comparison of the central part of the Milky Way at different wavelengths.

(Photo via ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck)

Comparison of the central part of the Milky Way at different wavelengths (annotated).

(Photo via ESO/APEX/ATLASGAL consortium/NASA/GLIMPSE consortium/ESA/Planck)

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