How to Find the Milky Way in the Night Sky

How to Find the Milky Way

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The Milky Way

The Milky Way is a vast system of thousands of galaxies stretching out from our own into deep space. These galaxies are often seen in silhouette, against the star-studded sky, as a vast band of light. It is named after the Milk River in ancient Egypt, which was called ‘the river of stars’ by ancient astronomers. The name ‘Milky Way’ is from a fanciful theory of the ancient Greek astronomer, Aristarchus, that the Milky Way was made up of innumerable little stars (which he believed were actually planets) held together by their mutual gravitational attraction.

How to Find the Milky Way

It was not until later that the Milky Way was recognized as a continuous system of galaxies rather than an arrangement of individual stars and nebulae. In the 17th and 18th centuries the constellations were used to predict the seasons and eclipses and people believed that there must be some connection between the position of the stars and the Earth’s location in space. The constellations of Orion and Scorpius were associated with the pole star, and the Pleiades with the equator. The Milky Way was then imagined as a river with the Sun as its source and the star Polaris its head.

Today, we know that the Milky Way consists of hundreds of billions of stars, scattered over a distance of 100,000 light years. We are one of perhaps 100 billion galaxies in the observable Universe. We can see distant galaxies by looking at the light from those which shine across the void between us and them. Galaxies are so far away that their light has been traveling for millions of years and is visible only as it reaches us today. The galaxies themselves contain billions of stars, all of which are much smaller than the sun. Some are as small as Jupiter. The Milky Way is a giant spiral galaxy, with its arms tipped with bright yellowish star clusters and containing a number of smaller, tightly packed globular clusters (clusters of hundreds or even thousands of individual stars).

How to Find the Milky Way

The Milky Way appears to be the same color from one side to the other, and is actually composed of hundreds of billions of tiny, individual stars. From our viewpoint, we are always looking along the plane of the galaxy, which means that all the stars in the sky appear to be in one plane – we see the stars ‘edge-on’. The Milky Way is thought to have formed about 13 billion years ago when gas clouds collided and combined to form a rotating disk of stars.

In the past, people thought there was a connection between the appearance of the milky way and the position of the stars in the sky. They believed that each year the Milky Way would appear in one of these positions in the sky. This belief arose because our ancestors had no accurate knowledge of the time of day, but were more aware of the phases of the moon. They believed that the stars could change their position from one night to the next depending on the phase of the moon, which meant they thought the Milky Way might appear at different points in the sky each night.

It has been calculated that the stars move by about the same distance as a car moves across the United States in around four minutes. They move about the Earth in their orbits at around 100 miles per second and, when viewed from Earth, they appear to move slowly.

How to Find the Milky Way

As a result, the stars seem to stand still, though they are always moving. This is why you can find them in the same places in the sky year after year.

You can’t see the Milky Way with the naked eye, but it can be seen with a pair of binoculars or a telescope. With a pair of binoculars, you can only see the central part of the Milky Way. With a telescope, you can see the whole band of stars in the sky. It is usually easiest to look for the milky way by pointing the telescope at the area of the sky where the stars appear to be most concentrated.

With the naked eye, you can also try looking at the constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion). This looks like a giant scorpion and its tail is pointing almost towards the Milky Way. Look along this tail until you find the brightest star in the sky – the bright blue star Vega (α Lyrae). It should be in the middle of the Scorpion’s tail.

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Is it easy to find the Milky Way?

How to Find the Milky Way

This is easy. Just go outside and look up at the sky. The Milky Way is the band of bright white light seen against the blackness of space. It is actually a collection of many billions of stars that are so close together that they look like one big star. There are about 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone and the rest of them are dotted around other galaxies. All of them are so far away from us that we can’t see them as individual stars, only as a faint glow. We can see them because their light takes some time to reach Earth. Each star is much, much smaller than the Sun. Even if there were 10 million stars just the size of the Sun it would still take over three million years for all of those millions of stars to come into our view.

The Milky Way runs through the centre of the galaxy so it’s easiest to see it when you’re standing on the ground. It’s like looking up at a very bright, fuzzy ball of light in the sky. To see more stars you have to go up higher or out in space. You’ll also need to have dark skies.

To see the most stars and the Milky Way clearly you should be in a dark area of the sky away from city lights. Find a place where there are no clouds or other obstructions to the horizon and look straight up. If you’re lucky enough to be near a large body of water, a lake, the sea, a river or even a swamp you may be able to see it through the mist or the reflection of the moon on the water.

How to Find the Milky Way

When you find a place that is clear of cloud and other obstructions you can see the stars like a blanket covering the sky. At the top of the blanket you’ll see a band of white light. It looks like a glowing circle because of the way the Earth’s atmosphere bends light from the stars and makes them appear as a circle. At first it may look like a single bright dot but if you keep looking you’ll be able to make out the fuzzy glow of individual stars. The further away a star is from Earth, the brighter it will appear. If you want to get a better view of the band of white light, you need to lie on your back in the dark. Turn off all lights, including those inside the house, and try to imagine that the sky is a black sheet covering everything.

If you do this you can see more stars than you could in broad daylight. You’ll see the Milky Way clearly as a glowing, white band running through the sky.


How to Find the Milky Way

The Milky Way is one of the most famous constellations in the night sky. And it’s easy to see why!

It is a giant band of stars stretching from the southern to the northern hemisphere, with the centre located near the constellation Sagittarius.

The Milky Way is actually a cloud of stars, dust and gas, which stretches across our entire galaxy, the Milky Way.

The best time to view the Milky Way is during the months of December through April. But, the best place to look for it is at night, when the moon is not shining, and you can see it clearly.

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