The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our Solar System. The descriptive “milky” is derived from the appearance from Earth of the galaxy – a band of light seen in the night sky formed from stars that cannot be individually distinguished by the naked eye.
What is the Milky Way?
The term Milky Way is a translation of the Latin via lactea. From Earth, the Milky Way appears as a band because its disk-shaped structure is viewed from within. Galileo Galilei first resolved the band of light into individual stars with his telescope in 1610. Until the early 1920s, most astronomers thought that the Milky Way contained all the stars in the Universe. Following the 1920 Great Debate between the astronomers Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis. observations by Edwin Hubble showed that it is just one of many galaxies.
It is a barred spiral galaxy with a diameter between 100,000 and 180,000 light-years. The Milky Way is estimated to contain 100–400 billion stars. There are probably at least 100 billion planets in it. The Solar System is located within the disk, about 26,000 light-years from the Galactic Center, on the inner edge of one of the spiral-shaped concentrations of gas and dust called the Orion Arm. The stars in the inner ≈10,000 light-years form a bulge and one or more bars that radiate from the bulge. The very center is marked by an intense radio source, named Sagittarius A*, which is likely to be a supermassive black hole.
Stars and gases at a wide range of distances from the Galactic Center orbit at approximately 220 kilometers per second. The constant rotation speed contradicts the laws of Keplerian dynamics and suggests that much of the mass of the Milky Way does not emit or absorb electromagnetic radiation. This mass has been termed “dark matter”. The rotational period is about 240 million years at the position of the Sun. It as a whole is moving at a velocity of approximately 600 km per second with respect to extragalactic frames of reference. The oldest stars in the Milky Way are nearly as old as the Universe itself and thus probably formed shortly after the Dark Ages of the Big Bang.
The Milky Way consists of a bar-shaped core region surrounded by a disk of gas, dust and stars. The mass distribution within the Milky Way closely resembles the type Sbc in the Hubble classification, which represents spiral galaxies with relatively loosely wound arms. Astronomers began to suspect that it is a barred spiral galaxy, rather than an ordinary spiral galaxy, in the 1990s. Their suspicions were confirmed by the Spitzer Space Telescope observations in 2005 that showed the Milky Way’s central bar to be larger than previously thought.
Image: Photo by Oliver Ivanov
Text: Wikipedia contributors. “Milky Way.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 3 Aug. 2017. Web. 10 Aug. 2017.