The Milky Way is smaller than astronomers previously thought, according to new research. For the first time, scientists have been able to precisely measure the mass of the galaxy that contains our solar system. Researchers have found that the Milky Way is approximately half the weight of ou neighboring galaxy – Andromeda – which has a similar structure to our own. The Milky Way and Andromeda are the two largest in a region of galaxies which astronomers call the Local Group.
In this new study, researchers were also able to work out the mass of invisible matter found in the outer regions of both galaxies, and reveal their total weights. They say 90 per cent of both galaxies' matter is invisible. Scientists say that Andromeda's extra weight must be present in the form of dark matter, the little-understood invisible substance which makes up most of the outer regions of galaxies. They estimate that Andromeda contains twice as much dark matter as the Milky Way, causing it to be twice as heavy.
The Sagittarius Window Eclipsing Extrasolar Planet Search, or SWEEPS, was a 2006 astronomical survey project using the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys - Wide Field Channel to monitor 180,000 stars for seven days to detect extrasolar planets via the transit method. The stars that were monitored in this astronomical survey were all located in the Sagittarius-I Window, a rare transparent view to the Milky Way's central bulge stars in the Sagittarius constellation as our view to most of the galaxy's central stars is blocked by lanes of dust. These stars in the galaxy's central bulge region are approximately 27,000 light years from Earth.