Podcaster: Richard Drumm
Title: UNAWE Space Scoop – When Stars Wobble
Organization: 365 Days Of Astronomy
Description: Space scoop, news for children.
Just like the familiar maps we use to navigate our own neighborhoods and cities, astronomers develop maps of the galaxy too! Using the power of several telescopes across Japan, astronomers have teased out some new insights as to the precise location of the Earth within our Milky Way Galaxy. They also found insights on the location of the black hole that lies at the center of it!
Bio: Richard Drumm is President of the Charlottesville Astronomical Society and President of 3D – Drumm Digital Design, a video production company with clients such as Kodak, Xerox and GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals. He was an observer with the UVa Parallax Program at McCormick Observatory in 1981 & 1982. He has found that his greatest passion in life is public outreach astronomy and he pursues it at every opportunity.
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This is the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast. Today we bring you a new episode in our Space Scoop series. This show is produced in collaboration with Universe Awareness, a program that strives to inspire every child with our wonderful cosmos.
Today’s story is…
Where Are We?
Just like the familiar maps we use to navigate our own neighborhoods and cities, astronomers develop maps of the galaxy too!
Using the power of several telescopes across Japan, astronomers have teased out some new insights as to the precise location of the Earth within our Milky Way Galaxy.
They also found insights on the location of the black hole that lies at the center of it!
Because Earth is located inside the Milky Way galaxy, we can’t step back and see what the galaxy looks like from the outside.
The problem is akin to being trapped inside a house, unable to leave, and wondering what the house looks like from across the street.
We can’t go across the street & take a picture of the house, but we can measure some of the rooms and make an educated guess.
Therefore, the measurement of the positions and motions of objects in space is an important tool for understanding the overall structure of the galaxy and our place in it.
The VLBI Exploration of Radio Astrometry, or VERA telescope, operated by the NAOJ, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, uses a special technique known as interferometry.
This technique combines the data from radio telescopes that are scattered all across Japan in order to achieve the same resolution that a radio telescope 2,300 kilometers in diameter could achieve.
Based on the August 2020, VERA Astrometry Catalog, astronomers constructed a position and velocity map for the 99 objects that they studied.
From this map of the orbits, they calculated the location of the center of the Galaxy, the point that everything revolves around.
The map tells us that the center of the galaxy, and the supermassive black hole that’s there, is located 25,800 light-years from Earth.
This is closer than the official value of 27,700 light-years that astronomers have been using since 1985.
They also determined that Earth is traveling at a speed of 227 kilometers per second as it orbits around the center of the galaxy.
That’s faster than astronomers had previously believed and is almost 300 times faster than a rifle bullet!
This also means our solar system is going little bit faster and slightly closer to the supermassive black hole in the center of the galaxy than we’d thought.
But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that our planet is plunging towards the black hole! We’re orbiting it just fine!
Instead, these new insights paint a clearer and more accurate map of our galaxy.
The VERA telescope will continue to make observations and study the motions of more objects in our galaxy, particularly ones close to our galaxy’s supermassive black hole.
Not only that, but the astronomers plan to participate in a larger network of radio telescopes, the EAVN, the East Asian VLBI Network, with radio telescopes in Japan, South Korea, and China.
By increasing the number of telescopes and the maximum separation between telescopes, the EAVN can achieve even higher accuracy.
Simply put, this will help us better understand the structure and motion of our home, the Milky Way, the galaxy where all the cool kids live!
Hey, here’s a cool fact:
VERA’s resolution is sharp enough, in theory, to resolve a United States penny placed on the surface of the Moon.
Thank you for listening to the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast!
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by Planetary Science Institute. Audio post-production by Richard Drumm. Bandwidth donated by libsyn.com and wizzard media. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes.
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