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Hitchhikers' Guide was WRONG, Earth is not in a galactic backwater

Quite a fashionable neighbourhood, new star map suggests

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As just about any regular Reg reader knows, the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy states authoritatively that this planet Earth lies "far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy". However, it appears that in this case the Guide is probably wrong.

We learn this from new research carried out by astronomers who have been probing the heavens with the aid of the mighty five-thousand-miles-wide Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) radio-scope.

An announcement from the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory, highlighting the new boffinry, has this to say:

Our Solar System's Milky Way neighborhood just went upscale. We reside between two major spiral arms of our home galaxy, in a structure called the Local Arm. New research using the ultra-sharp radio vision of the National Science Foundation's Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) indicates that the Local Arm, previously thought to be only a small spur, instead is much more like the adjacent major arms, and is likely a significant branch of one of them.

Far from an unfashionable backwater, then, it would seem that our local stellar neighbourhood is in fact a comparatively desirable and bustling bit of galactic real estate.

"The Local Arm should appear as a prominent feature of the Milky Way," contends enthusiastic galactic estate agent Alberto Sanna, of the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy.

"The Local Arm is not a spur. It is a major structure, maybe a branch of the Perseus Arm, or possibly an independent arm segment," he adds.

Sanna and his colleagues found this out by using the VLBA to obtain ranges to naturally occurring microwave-laser (maser) energy emissions beaming out of faraway clouds of water and alcohol. Such localities are where hot young stars are to be found, an unfailing indicator of trendiness in galactic neighbourhood terms.

Earth's 'hood, according to Sanna and his fellow astronomers' results as interpreted by the NRAO outreach staff, deserves "more respect" than it has received thus far.

Though perhaps not enough even so to prevent our planet being demolished, ostensibly in order to make way for a hyperspace bypass (but actually in order to safeguard the psychiatric industry by preventing the planet - in fact a vast supercomputer controlled by mice - from finding out the Ultimate Question of the universe, the answer to which is, of course, 42.) ®

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