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Milky Way’s Giant Black Hole Awoke from Slumber 300 Years Ago
The Galactic Plane seen by the ATLASGAL survey, divided into sections. Credit ESO.The stellar disk of the Milky Way Galaxy is approximately 100,000 light-years (9×1017 km) (6×1017 mi) in diameter, and is considered to be, on average, about 1,000 ly (9×1015 km) thick. It is estimated to contain at least 200 billion stars and possibly up to 400 billion stars, the exact figure depending on the number of very low-mass stars, which is highly uncertain. This can be compared to the one trillion (1012) stars of the neighbouring Andromeda Galaxy. The stellar disc does not have a sharp edge, a radius beyond which there are no stars. Rather, the number of stars drops smoothly with distance from the centre of the Galaxy. Beyond a radius of roughly 40,000 light-years (4×1017 km) the number of stars drops much faster with radius, for reasons that are not understood.
Extending beyond the stellar disk is a much thicker disk of gas. Recent observations indicate that the gaseous disk of the Milky Way has a thickness of around 12,000 ly (1×1017 km)—twice the previously accepted value. As a guide to the relative physical scale of the Milky Way, if it were reduced to 10m in diameter, the Solar System, including the hypothesized Oort cloud, would be no more than 0.1mm in width.
The Galactic Halo extends outward, but is limited in size by the orbits of two Milky Way satellites, the Large and the Small Magellanic Clouds, whose perigalacticon is at ~180,000 ly (2×1018 km). At this distance or beyond, the orbits of most halo objects would be disrupted by the Magellanic Clouds, and the objects would likely be ejected from the vicinity of the Milky Way.