The Milky Way is 50 percent larger than previously thought, says an international research team led by Heidi Jo Newberg at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In a classic case of turning existing data into knowledge, the team reexamined findings from 2002 and drew a radically different conclusion. The 2oo2 Sloan Digital Sky Survey noted the presence of a ring of stars extending outward from the borders of the Milky Way: Newberg’s team has determined that the ring is actually part of the Milky Way.
The reassessment hinges on a theory that the plane of the galactic disk isn’t as flat as once believed. Instead the plane is corrugated–it ripples. That accounts for a previously observed periodic lack of star density in the already established galactic plane–and allows scientists to posit an extension of the plane that includes the known ring and perhaps others beyond it.