Our galaxy is one of the most fascinating things in the universe. Not only does it house our home planet Earth, your Sun, and other planets in our galaxy like Venus and Neptune it also contains a great deal of unexplored space.
Yet there are many things about our galaxy that many people don’t know – either because they have never attempted to find out about them or because we as a species simply don’t know. However, there are some questions that can be answered about our galaxy such as the origin of its name.
So if you have ever wondered why is our galaxy called the Milky Way then this article will provide you with the answer.
Why Is Our Galaxy Called the Milky Way?
Let’s begin by answering the first and simplest question first – why is our galaxy called the Milky Way? Surely it is not related to the chocolate bar?!
The reason that our galaxy is called the Milky Way is because of its milky appearance. Indeed, the Milky Way was named by the Romans as the via lactea, which in Latin means the road of milk.
Indeed, even before the Romans made an association between milk and our galaxy by the Ancient Greeks who had an enduring myth that the goddess Hera once threw milk across the sky and that is how the stars formed their pattern.
Now that we’ve explained exactly why our galaxy is called the Milky Way, let’s explore some other fascinating facts about this place that we all call home.
Some Fascinating Facts About The Milky Way
Whilst we have often, particularly in the past, believed that our galaxy is the center of the universe, this of course isn’t the case. Our galaxy is only one of many galaxies in the universe and only one of many galaxies in our constellation.
Indeed, whilst we may consider our immediate solar system – the area of space that includes our own Earth, the Sun, and our seven neighboring planets – as massive it is only one small section of our entire galaxy.
In the Milky Way, there are between 100 million and 200 million solar systems in our galaxy, meaning that our planet is in many ways far from unique.
The sheer size of our galaxy is not the only impressive thing about it. The variety of planets and stars that are spread across the Milky Way is also truly astonishing.
The number of stars in the Milky Way is currently estimated to be around 100 thousand million – a truly astonishing statistic given that our universe is not simply our own galaxy and that our galaxy only inhabits a small section of it.
You might think then that given the size and scope of it that we would easily be able to get pictures of the Milky Way in all its glory to show others and explore the true wonders of space.
However, you’d be wrong – the Milky Way is so large that it is impossible to actually take a photograph of it in its entirety.
This means that any pictures you see claiming to be the Milky Way certainly aren’t it and are more likely images of smaller galaxies or an artist’s impression of what we think the Milky Way looks like.
We simply do not know what it looks like in its entirety which means it is rather tricky for scientists to be able to figure out not only what actually lives in our galaxy but also the true extent of it in relation to other galaxies.
You might be wondering – well how on earth has our home galaxy been able to become so large? The answer is fairly straightforward – it has become so large that it is pretty much eating other galaxies.
This may sound somewhat far-fetched but it is true. Our galaxy, like other large galaxies, envelopes and takes in smaller separate galaxies that are its close neighbors.
For example, at the moment the Dwarf galaxy Canis Major is being slowly consumed by the Milky Way and will soon become a part of our own galaxy.
Cannis Major is the galaxy that contains Sirius, the brightest star in our skies, and the heavily oxygen-rich star VY Cannis Major. It is fascinating to think that thanks to the progression of time, a galaxy that although smaller than our own was entirely separate is now being slowly and deliberately brought into our own.
The progression of time is part of the reason that our own home galaxy is large. You see, unlike other comparable galaxies that exist our home galaxy is rather old – in fact, it is very old.
It is estimated that the Milky Way is about 13.6 billion years old, which given that the universe itself is estimated to be about 13.7 billion years old means that our galaxy is one of the oldest in the known universe.
However, our universe and our galaxy are constantly evolving. Although our own galaxy is around 13.6 billion years old, the main parts of our galaxy including the disk and the bulge which gives our galaxy its own distinctive shape were only formed around 10 to 11 billion years ago.
Our own home planet Earth is even younger. The Earth is estimated to be around 4.5 billion years old, meaning it is a relative youngster compared to the rest of our galaxy and indeed our own universe.
Yet despite its great age, our galaxy isn’t a stationary force; indeed, as we all know, our Earth orbits our own Sun at a speed that is not noticeable to the people who live on the surface of it during their day to day lives but which is a core part of our ability to exist.
The same is true of the Milky Way – whilst it may seem to remain stagnant and not moving, it is in fact moving at an incredibly fast speed as we sit here on Earth going about our daily lives.
It is estimated that the Milky Way is turning and moving at around 2.2 million kilometers per hour. This is an almost unimaginable speed and an almost unimaginable distance, but it is true.
Our galaxy truly is astonishing and despite its name being derived from its appearance being akin to spilled milk it is far from that – it is a truly astonishing wonder of the universe that we should appreciate.
We are always constantly evolving and changing – that is a part of life in this universe and it is a part of being a member of the human species. This is why it is important to know about our galaxy and not only how it was thought of in the past but what it was like in the past.
Our galaxy is constantly moving, constantly changing, and only by being aware of that can we be sure that we change our ways as well.
Time is a truly precious thing and as our galaxy changes and evolves we need to reflect upon that change and ensure that we use our knowledge of the Milky Way to make our planet and the galaxy a much better place to be.
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