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Astronomers claimed that the gas and dust from various origins in the Milky Way and heavy elements inside them are messier than previously thought.

Because gas, dust, and elements heavier than helium-which astronomers call "metals" - are an essential part of any galaxy, knowing their composition and distribution is crucial to understanding how galaxies are made and change over time.

Scientists Using New Ways to Know Milky Way's Metallicity

University of Geneva (UNIGE) used a novel approach to determine the overall composition of gas and dust in the atmosphere of stars throughout the Milky Way. They obtained the data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Very Large Telescope in the Atacama Desert area of Northern Chile.

They were able to trace the entire amount of metals in the dust and compare it to prior totals in this way. They observed that stars in certain locations only contained 10% of the star's heavy components, the Sun, possesses.

Researchers published the study titled "Large Metallicity Variations in the Galactic Interstellar Medium" in Nature on Wednesday.

Milky Way
(Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
This illustration shows astronomers’ current understanding of the large-scale structure of the Milky Way. Stars and star-forming regions are largely grouped into spiral arms. Measuring the shape, size, and a number of spiral arms are challenging because Earth is located inside the galaxy.

In a news release, researchers said that this discovery is crucial in making theoretical models for galaxies' origin and evolution. They mentioned that they would have to enhance the simulations in the future by improving the resolution. Hence, the team may integrate these variations in metallicity at different points in the Milky Way with the new setting.

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NASA said supernovas are intense and powerful explosions that occur as stars near the end of their lives. Heavy elements are distributed throughout galaxies, clumping in cold areas. As hydrogen and helium concentrate in these frigid, dense regions to produce stars, these elements are thrown into the mix.

Annalisa De Cia of the UNIGE Faculty of Science led the study. De Cia said in a Phys.org report that Milky Way contained no metals when it was created more than 10 billion years ago. She went on to say that the metals generated by the stars eventually enriched the atmosphere.

Milky Way is Indeed Messy After All

Astronomers had thought that metals were equally distributed over the Milky Way. But SciTechDaily said scientists discovered that not only is the Milky Way's surroundings not homogenous, but it is also not consistent.

The solar metallicity, or the number of metals present in the Sun's atmosphere, was thought to be common among stars, gas clouds, and other entities across the Milky Way. As a result, solar metallicity might be used as a proxy for chemical abundance in our galaxy.

According to IFL Science, that may not be the case after all. Gases having drastically diverse or unique compositions might create stars and planets.

These findings have a significant influence on our knowledge of galaxy evolution, particularly our own. Metals, after all, are crucial in the creation of stars, cosmic dust, molecules, and planets. And we now know that today, new stars and planets may be created from gases with vastly differing compositions.

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