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FEATURE ARTICLE

The Formation and Evolution of the Milky Way

The distribution of the chemical elements in our galaxy serves as a "fossil record" of its evolutionary history

Cristina Chiappini

Our Galaxy is a highly evolved entity. Not merely a random assortment of stars, like so many grains of sand on a beach, it is an elegant structure that shows both order and complexity. We know that the Milky Way is a spiral disk galaxy, similar to many others we see in the sky. This surprisingly beautiful shape is so common among galaxies that the universe almost seems to delight in building them. The end product is especially remarkable in light of what is believed to be the starting point: nebulous blobs of gas. Attempts to explain how one might build a galaxy that looks like our own have typically fallen short of the observations. Now Chiappini and her colleagues have come up with a new model of our Galaxy’s evolutionary history that tackles some previously unexplained observations.


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