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The Milky Way Galaxy - Our Home

The Milky Way galaxy is the spiral galaxy we call home, as do roughly 100 billion other stars. It looks very much like other spiral galaxies when viewed from above. There are spiral arms and a bright central part. The Sun is far from the center of the Galaxy, halfway to the edge of the Galaxy along the Orion spiral arm.

The Sun is revolving around the center of the Galaxy at a speed of half a million miles per hour, yet it will still take 200 million years for it to go around once. Do you feel like you are moving at that speed through space? If you did, you would certainly need a seat belt! When we run, we feel the wind on our bodies because there are molecules which make up the air that push against our bodies. But there are very few molecules in the space between the stars. So there is nothing to push against our planet so that we "feel" like we are rushing around at half a million miles per hour.

A galaxy like the Milky Way as viewed from the top, and the actual Milky Way as viewed in the infrared
Click on top image for diagram (276K JPEG)
Click on bottom image for diagram (204K JPEG)
European Southern Observatory & NASA COBE Project
Like other spiral galaxies, the Milky Way has a bulge, a disk, and a halo. Although all are parts of the same galaxy, each contains different objects. The halo and central bulge contain old stars and the disk is filled with gas, dust, and young stars. Our Sun is itself a fairly young star at only 5 billion years old. The Milky Way galaxy is at least 5 billion years older than that.

Questions and answers about the Milky Way

A Matter of Scale - interactive showing the sizes of things, from very tiny to huge - from NSF

Last modified January 11, 2006 by Travis Metcalfe.

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The Summer 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, available in our online store, includes articles on rivers and snow, classroom planetariums, satellites and oceanography, hands-on astronomy, and global warming.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF