As surprising as this may sound, physicists and astronomers aren't entirely sure how spiral galaxies like the Milky Way got their exact shape. Any attempts to generate a spiral galaxy from scratch resulted in a computer simulation that showed a giant ball with too many stars. But a new study to be published in the August 2012 issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society will finally show one way it could have happened.

This news comes courtesy of SkyMania's Paul Sutherland who is reporting on how an international team of astrophysicists worked for four years to develop an accurate simulation of the Milky Way's 14 billion year journey — from the Big Bang right through to today's configuration. See the above video for the finished result.

Sutherland explains:

The UCLan's breakthrough came after they included in their calculations a figure for the amount of energy released by exploding stars that was 10 to 100 times greater than any previously used. This at last gave them a galaxy that began to resemble the Milky Way. What previously appeared like a blob of stars, with a little disk inside it, slowly disappeared, to be replaced by the opposite. It was exactly what they wanted to find.

Dr [Chris] Brook said: "From our analysis we realised that all attempts were being far too conservative in their energy usage from very massive stars –- those 10 to 100 times more massive than the Sun. When massive stars ‘die' they explode spectacularly and return most of the chemical elements out of which us, our planet, and our solar system formed, as well as an enormous amount of energy into the surrounding gas. We decided to be more aggressive in our simulations of the energy released by both living and dying massive stars."

Be sure to check out Sutherland's entire article.