Saturday, February 4, 2012

Home Galaxy News-Part 1

Hey Space Placers!

If you have ever been in a dark sky site in summer or winter you probably noticed the faint band of light that crosses the sky during those seasons. You may have wondered what you were looking at or already knew that you were seeing a portion of our home galaxy, the Milky Way.

Not named for the candy bar, but for its appearance in the sky, the Milky Way was named by the ancients who had a really good view of the sky before lights and massive population took away the dark. These cultures of long ago envisioned the band of light that they could see so plainly - it really is bright when there are no lights or Moon to interfere with the view, especially in summer - as being a milky colored river running across the sky.

Today we know that what we are seeing when we see this band of light is literally the collective light of millions of stars that comprise some of the arms of the Milky Way, a barred spiral galaxy. It is difficult to discover the nature of the Milky Way because we live inside of it. Our Sun is but one of hundreds of billions of stars and Earth is just one of hundreds of billions of planets. We are located in one of the Galaxy's spiral arms and are about 75,000 light years from the center of the Galaxy.

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has taken a photograph of a galaxy, NGC 1073, a barred spiral like the Milky Way Galaxy, located 55 million light-years away in the constellation of Cetus, that is thought to be very close to what we would like when viewed from afar. Studying similar galaxies like this will help us learn more about our own home galaxy.

I'll have more Milky Way Galaxy news tomorrow.

Sky Guy in VA

NGC 1073

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