The team has found the Milky Way's stellar disk becomes increasingly warped and twisted the further away the stars are from the Galaxy's center.
At the center of the Milky Way is a supermassive black hole, surrounded by billions of stars and invisible "dark matter", which can't be seen directly but exerts a gravitational pull that helps keep the galaxy intact.
The paper, published in Nature Astronomy on February 4, details work by Australian and Chinese astronomers to examine the classical "Cepheids" - a collection of huge, young stars in the Milky Way that can be up to 100,000 times brighter than the sun. Their mapping efforts revealed the warped nature of the galaxy's far outer disk.
Though past analysis has established that the hydrogen gas in our galaxy takes on a warped shape, questions have remained as to whether stars follow the same shape or not.
While the recent study focused on making the map, not explaining it, the authors hypothesize that as the Milky Way's inner disk of stars rotates, it drags on the outer disk as well, distorting the flat spiral.
The Milky Way turned out to be progressively twisted in its outer areas, which is most likely caused by the powerful rotating forces released by the galaxy's massive internal disk, according to the research.
"It is notoriously hard to determine distances from the Sun to parts of the Milky Way's outer gas disc without having a clear idea of what that disc actually looks like", lead study author Xiaodian Chen of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing said in a statement.
A team of astronomers from the Macquarie University in Australia and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have mapped out the Milky Way using 1,339 "standard stars".
The light of these short-lived stars changes regularly, in day- to month-long cycles. Combined with a Cepheid's observed brightness, its pulsation period can be used to obtain a highly accurate distance.
NAOC found that this galactic game of schoolyard bullying forms the warped S-shape of our galaxy. So our Milky Way's twists are rare but not unique, they said.
Researchers from Macquarie University, Australia, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences made their findings after creating a new 3-D map of the Milky Way, which allowed them to better estimate its shape. Furthermore, they also fit in with observations of a handful of other galaxies that display progressively twisted spiral patterns in their outer regions.
Spiral galaxies usually appear very flat and easy to see through a telescope, said the researchers behind the new map, published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy.