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A map of the Milky Way made using the distribution of pulsing stars. Credit: J. Skowron/OGLE/Astronomical Observatory, University of Warsaw

A new 3D map of the Milky Way reveals the structure of our galaxy as never before, according to a study published this week in the journal Science.

Why it matters: By modeling the Milky Way, scientists can piece together the galaxy’s history, explaining why it looks the way it does and placing it in context with other galaxies observed around our own.

What they found: The new study confirms the Milky Way’s disk appears to be warped in an extreme way.

  • “We don't know for sure, but we think that the warp may have been caused by interactions with satellite galaxies…” Dorota Skowron, one of the study’s authors tells Axios via email. “Other possibilities point to interactions with intergalactic gas or dark matter.”
  • The team measured the distances from the Sun to more than 2,400 pulsing stars called Cepheids in order to map the galaxy from the inside out.
  • They found the Milky Way does have four arms arranged in a spiral structure, as earlier studies have suggested.

What’s next: Mapping variable stars like Cepheids on the other side of the Milky Way’s center could inform future research about the shape of our galaxy, astrophysicist Richard de Grijs, who didn’t take part in the new study, tells Axios via email.

  • If the other side of the disk is also warped “this 3D feature is most likely caused by dynamics and kinematics of the stars in the disk,” de Grijs, who recently co-authored another study mapping the galaxy with Cepheids, said.
  • “If this is only seen on one side, it may be due to the gravitational effects of or merger with a smaller ‘dwarf’ galaxy in the past.”
  • The bottom line: It isn't a complete map of the Milky Way, but it sets a foundation for understanding how our galaxy and others around it evolved.

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. sounds alarm on Ukraine

Conscripts line up at a Russian railway station yesterday before departing for Army service. Photo: Sergei Malgavko/TASS via Getty Images

The Biden administration is "deeply concerned" by new intelligence — detailed for Axios and other outlets — showing Russia stepping up preparations to invade Ukraine as soon as early 2022.

Why it matters: Most of this was known from public sources and satellite imagery, but the administration is sending a stronger signal by releasing specific details from the intelligence community.

CNN fires Chris Cuomo

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for CNN

CNN said Saturday evening it has fired one of its star anchors, Chris Cuomo, following new revelations from a legal review made by the company into Cuomo's involvement in the management of his brother's sexual harassment scandal.

Why it matters: Saturday's firing speaks to how much pressure CNN was under by employees and critics to address Cuomo's behavior.

Updated 6 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Electric car prices could go up before they come down

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The secret to affordable electric vehicles is cheaper batteries. But after years of falling prices, battery costs are now headed in the wrong direction.

Why it matters: Costlier batteries could drive up the price of electric vehicles — threatening the auto industry's transition away from fossil fuels, and, in turn, society's fight against climate change.