The Milky Way Much More Than a Candy

In This Chapter

V The Milky Way's birth, evolution, size, and motion

V Our place in the Milky Way

V Structure of the Milky Way

V A variety of variable stars

V The mystery of dark matter

V The Galactic center: a black hole?

Ancient societies were very aware of the Milky Way, a fuzzy band that arcs across the sky. Without the aid of a telescope, it is not possible to see that this band consists of billions of individual stars. For this reason, ancient cultures described the Milky Way variously: as a bridge across the sky, as a river, as spilled corn meal from a sack dragged by a dog, or as the backbone of the heavens. No one described it as what it is—unresolved stars. So imagine Galileo's surprise when he first looked through his telescope at the Milky Way. To his eyes, the Milky Way appeared to be a fuzzy band of light arcing across the sky. But through a telescope, the fuzz was resolved into an enormous number of individual stars. Galileo must have been stunned. Why were those stars all lying in an arc on the sky? It was several centuries before we determined our place in that grand arc.

With many of us living in atmospherically polluted and light-polluted cities and suburbs, the Milky Way can be difficult or impossible to see. Under the best viewing conditions, it is a stunning sight, a majestic band of light extending high above the horizon.

When we look at the band, we see our own galaxy from the inside. The Milky Way is our home, and, in this chapter we take a closer look at our place in the Milky Way, and how it may have come to be.

Telescopes Mastery

Telescopes Mastery

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