The Milky Way

The Milky WayThe Milky Way Galaxy

Picture the Solar System – all the planets, asteroids and comets whirling in orbit around our nearest star, the Sun.  You might think that the Sun is sitting in the centre of it all.  But the Sun is on the move too.  It’s just one of hundreds of billions of stars swirling around a place called … The Milky Way Galaxy.

If you could see our galaxy from the side, it would look like a huge, thin disk with a slight bump in the centre. This flat shape is caused by the galaxy spinning around. Everything in our spinning galaxy would fly off into space if it weren’t for the force of gravity.

Without a telescope, we can see about 6,000 stars from Earth. That may seem like a lot of stars, but it’s actually only a small part of the whole. If you think of the entire galaxy as a giant pizza, all the stars you can see from Earth fall within about one pepperoni on that pizza. In fact, for every star you can see, there are more than 20 million you cannot see. Most of the stars are too faint, too far away or blocked by clouds of cosmic dust.

The Milky WayThe Milky Way is a huge collection of stars, dust and gas. It’s called a spiral galaxy because if you could view it from the top, it would look like a spinning wheel. The Sun is located on one of the spiral arms, about 25,000 light-years away from the centre of the galaxy. Even if you could travel at the speed of light (300,000 kilometres per second), it would take you about 25,000 years to reach the middle of the Milky Way. 

The Milky Way gets its name from a Greek myth about the goddess Hera who sprayed milk across the sky. In other parts of the world, our galaxy goes by other names. In China it’s called the ‘Silver River’, and in the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa, it’s called the ‘Backbone of Night’. 

Astronomers estimate that there are more than 100 billion stars in our galaxy!

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