Milky Way Loses Two Arms, HiRISE Takes a Family Snapshot

For those of you keeping track at home, the Milky Way Galaxy has lost half of its spiral arms:
Now, new images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope are shedding light on the true structure of the Milky Way, revealing that it has just two major arms of stars instead of the four it was previously thought to possess.

"Spitzer has provided us with a starting point for rethinking the structure of the Milky Way," said Robert Benjamin of the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, who presented the new results at a press conference today at the 212th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in St. Louis, Mo. "We will keep revising our picture in the same way that early explorers sailing around the globe had to keep revising their maps."
Okay, I suppose the Milky Way lost its arms in the same way Pluto isn't a planet anymore, but still, it's amazing that we live in this galaxy, and we're still not even sure how many spiral arms it has.

Meanwhile, this is just gorgeous:

That's us -- Earth and the Moon -- as imaged by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera that's presently in orbit around Mars. There's something awe-inspiring in the realization that we're just standing on this pale blue dot in a galaxy so big that we barely know what it looks like, part of a universe larger than we can comprehend. And yet despite our tininess, we've managed to send a satellite a hundred million miles away, and turn it around to take a family snapshot. Sometimes, words are superfluous.

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