The Milky Way is the galaxy[nb 1] that contains our Solar System. The name describes the galaxy's appearance from Earth: a hazy band of light seen in the night sky formed from stars that cannot be individually distinguished by the naked eye. The term Milky Way is a translation of the Latin via lactea, from the Greek γαλαξίας κύκλος (galaxías kýklos, "milky circle"). 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 the Milky Way is just one of many galaxies. The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy with a diameter between 150,000 and 200,000 light-years (ly). It is estimated to contain 100–400 billion stars and more than 100 billion planets. The Solar System is located at a radius of 26,490 (± 100) light-years from the Galactic Center, on the inner edge of the Orion Arm, one of the spiral-shaped concentrations of gas and dust. The stars in the innermost 10,000 light-years form a bulge and one or more bars that radiate from the bulge. The galactic center is an intense radio source known as Sagittarius A*, assumed to be a supermassive black hole of 4.100 (± 0.034) million solar masses.
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 (about 90%) of the mass of the Milky Way is invisible to telescopes, neither emitting nor absorbing electromagnetic radiation. This conjectural mass has been termed "dark matter". The rotational period is about 240 million years at the radius of the Sun. The Milky Way 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.
|Milky Way Galaxy|
|Type||Sb, Sbc, or SB(rs)bc (barred spiral galaxy)|
|Diameter||150–200 kly (46–61 kpc)|
|Thickness of thin stellar disk||≈2 kly (0.6 kpc)|
|Number of stars||100–400 billion [(1–4)×1011]|
|Angular momentum||≈1×1067 J s|
|Sun's distance to Galactic Center||26.4 ± 1.0 kly (8.09 ± 0.31 kpc)|
|Sun's Galactic rotation period||240 Myr|
|Spiral pattern rotation period||220–360 Myr|
|Bar pattern rotation period||100–120 Myr|
|Speed relative to CMB rest frame||631 ± 20 km/s|
|Escape velocity at Sun's position||550 km/s|
|Dark matter density at Sun's position||0.0088+0.0024|
−0.0018 M☉pc-3 or 0.35+0.08
−0.07 GeV cm-3
|See also: Galaxy, List of galaxies|
The Milky Way is visible from Earth as a hazy band of white light, some 30° wide, arching across the night sky. In night sky observing, although all the individual naked-eye stars in the entire sky are part of the Milky Way, the term “Milky Way” is limited to this band of light. The light originates from the accumulation of unresolved stars and other material located in the direction of the galactic plane. Dark regions within the band, such as the Great Rift and the Coalsack, are areas where interstellar dust blocks light from distant stars. The area of sky that the Milky Way obscures is called the Zone of Avoidance.
The Milky Way has a relatively low surface brightness. Its visibility can be greatly reduced by background light, such as light pollution or moonlight. The sky needs to be darker than about 20.2 magnitude per square arcsecond in order for the Milky Way to be visible. It should be visible if the limiting magnitude is approximately +5.1 or better and shows a great deal of detail at +6.1. This makes the Milky Way difficult to see from brightly lit urban or suburban areas, but very prominent when viewed from rural areas when the Moon is below the horizon.[nb 2] Maps of artificial night sky brightness show that more than one-third of Earth's population cannot see the Milky Way from their homes due to light pollution.
As viewed from Earth, the visible region of the Milky Way's galactic plane occupies an area of the sky that includes 30 constellations. The Galactic Center lies in the direction of Sagittarius, where the Milky Way is brightest. From Sagittarius, the hazy band of white light appears to pass around to the galactic anticenter in Auriga. The band then continues the rest of the way around the sky, back to Sagittarius, dividing the sky into two roughly equal hemispheres.
The galactic plane is inclined by about 60° to the ecliptic (the plane of Earth's orbit). Relative to the celestial equator, it passes as far north as the constellation of Cassiopeia and as far south as the constellation of Crux, indicating the high inclination of Earth's equatorial plane and the plane of the ecliptic, relative to the galactic plane. The north galactic pole is situated at right ascension 12h 49m, declination +27.4° (B1950) near β Comae Berenices, and the south galactic pole is near α Sculptoris. Because of this high inclination, depending on the time of night and year, the arch of the Milky Way may appear relatively low or relatively high in the sky. For observers from latitudes approximately 65° north to 65° south, the Milky Way passes directly overhead twice a day.
The Milky Way is the second-largest galaxy in the Local Group, with its stellar disk approximately 100,000 ly (30 kpc) in diameter and, on average, approximately 1,000 ly (0.3 kpc) thick. The Milky Way is approximately 1.5 trillion times the mass of the Sun. To compare the relative physical scale of the Milky Way, if the Solar System out to Neptune were the size of a US quarter (24.3 mm (0.955 in)), the Milky Way would be approximately the size of the contiguous United States. There is a ring-like filament of stars rippling above and below the relatively flat galactic plane, wrapping around the Milky Way at a diameter of 150,000–180,000 light-years (46–55 kpc), which may be part of the Milky Way itself.
Estimates of the mass of the Milky Way vary, depending upon the method and data used. The low end of the estimate range is 5.8×1011 solar masses (M☉), somewhat less than that of the Andromeda Galaxy. Measurements using the Very Long Baseline Array in 2009 found velocities as large as 254 km/s (570,000 mph) for stars at the outer edge of the Milky Way. Because the orbital velocity depends on the total mass inside the orbital radius, this suggests that the Milky Way is more massive, roughly equaling the mass of Andromeda Galaxy at 7×1011 M☉ within 160,000 ly (49 kpc) of its center. In 2010, a measurement of the radial velocity of halo stars found that the mass enclosed within 80 kiloparsecs is 7×1011 M☉. According to a study published in 2014, the mass of the entire Milky Way is estimated to be 8.5×1011 M☉, but this is actually only half the mass of the Andromeda Galaxy.
Much of the mass of the Milky Way appears to be dark matter, an unknown and invisible form of matter that interacts gravitationally with ordinary matter. A dark matter halo is conjectured to spread out relatively uniformly to a distance beyond one hundred kiloparsecs (kpc) from the Galactic Center. Mathematical models of the Milky Way suggest that the mass of dark matter is 1–1.5×1012 M☉. Recent studies indicate a range in mass, as large as 4.5×1012 M☉  and as small as 8×1011 M☉.
The total mass of all the stars in the Milky Way is estimated to be between 4.6×1010 M☉ and 6.43×1010 M☉. In addition to the stars, there is also interstellar gas, comprising 90% hydrogen and 10% helium by mass, with two thirds of the hydrogen found in the atomic form and the remaining one-third as molecular hydrogen. The mass of this gas is equal to between 10% and 15% of the total mass of the galaxy's stars. Interstellar dust accounts for an additional 1% of the total mass of the gas.
In March 2019, astronomers reported that the mass of the Milky Way galaxy is 1.5 trillion solar masses within a radius of about 129,000 light-years, over twice as much as was determined in earlier studies, and suggesting that about 90% of the mass of the galaxy is dark matter.
The Milky Way contains between 200 and 400 billion stars and at least 100 billion planets. The exact figure depends on the number of very-low-mass stars, which are hard to detect, especially at distances of more than 300 ly (90 pc) from the Sun. As a comparison, the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy contains an estimated one trillion (1012) stars. The Milky Way may also contain perhaps ten billion white dwarfs, a billion neutron stars, and a hundred million black holes.[nb 3] Filling the space between the stars is a disk of gas and dust called the interstellar medium. This disk has at least a comparable extent in radius to the stars, whereas the thickness of the gas layer ranges from hundreds of light years for the colder gas to thousands of light years for warmer gas.
The disk of stars in the Milky Way does not have a sharp edge beyond which there are no stars. Rather, the concentration of stars decreases with distance from the center of the Milky Way. For reasons that are not understood, beyond a radius of roughly 40,000 ly (13 kpc) from the center, the number of stars per cubic parsec drops much faster with radius. Surrounding the galactic disk is a spherical Galactic Halo of stars and globular clusters that extends further outward but is limited in size by the orbits of two Milky Way satellites, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, whose closest approach to the Galactic Center is about 180,000 ly (55 kpc). At this distance or beyond, the orbits of most halo objects would be disrupted by the Magellanic Clouds. Hence, such objects would probably be ejected from the vicinity of the Milky Way. The integrated absolute visual magnitude of the Milky Way is estimated to be around −20.9.[a]
Both gravitational microlensing and planetary transit observations indicate that there may be at least as many planets bound to stars as there are stars in the Milky Way, and microlensing measurements indicate that there are more rogue planets not bound to host stars than there are stars. The Milky Way contains at least one planet per star, resulting in 100–400 billion planets, according to a January 2013 study of the five-planet star system Kepler-32 with the Kepler space observatory. A different January 2013 analysis of Kepler data estimated that at least 17 billion Earth-sized exoplanets reside in the Milky Way. On November 4, 2013, astronomers reported, based on Kepler space mission data, that there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zones of Sun-like stars and red dwarfs within the Milky Way. 11 billion of these estimated planets may be orbiting Sun-like stars. The nearest such planet may be 4.2 light-years away, according to a 2016 study. Such Earth-sized planets may be more numerous than gas giants. Besides exoplanets, "exocomets", comets beyond the Solar System, have also been detected and may be common in the Milky Way.
The Milky Way consists of a bar-shaped core region surrounded by a warped 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 first began to suspect that the Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy, rather than an ordinary spiral galaxy, in the 1960s. 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.
A galactic quadrant, or quadrant of the Milky Way, refers to one of four circular sectors in the division of the Milky Way. In actual astronomical practice, the delineation of the galactic quadrants is based upon the galactic coordinate system, which places the Sun as the origin of the mapping system.
Quadrants are described using ordinals—for example, "1st galactic quadrant", "second galactic quadrant", or "third quadrant of the Milky Way". Viewing from the north galactic pole with 0 degrees (°) as the ray that runs starting from the Sun and through the Galactic Center, the quadrants are as follows:
The Sun is 25,000–28,000 ly (7.7–8.6 kpc) from the Galactic Center. This value is estimated using geometric-based methods or by measuring selected astronomical objects that serve as standard candles, with different techniques yielding various values within this approximate range. In the inner few kpc (around 10,000 light-years radius) is a dense concentration of mostly old stars in a roughly spheroidal shape called the bulge. It has been proposed that the Milky Way lacks a bulge formed due to a collision and merger between previous galaxies, and that instead it only has a pseudobulge formed by its central bar. However, confusion in the literature between the (peanut shell)-shaped structure created by instabilities in the bar, versus a possible bulge with an expected half-light radius of 0.5 kpc, abound.
The Galactic Center is marked by an intense radio source named Sagittarius A* (pronounced Sagittarius A-star). The motion of material around the center indicates that Sagittarius A* harbors a massive, compact object. This concentration of mass is best explained as a supermassive black hole[nb 4] (SMBH) with an estimated mass of 4.1–4.5 million times the mass of the Sun. The rate of accretion of the SMBH is consistent with an inactive galactic nucleus, being estimated at around 1×10−5 M☉ y−1 (around 100 solar masses per year). Observations indicate that there are SMBHs located near the center of most normal galaxies.
The nature of the Milky Way's bar is actively debated, with estimates for its half-length and orientation spanning from 1 to 5 kpc (3,000–16,000 ly) and 10–50 degrees relative to the line of sight from Earth to the Galactic Center. Certain authors advocate that the Milky Way features two distinct bars, one nestled within the other. However, RR Lyrae variables do not trace a prominent Galactic bar. The bar may be surrounded by a ring called the "5-kpc ring" that contains a large fraction of the molecular hydrogen present in the Milky Way, as well as most of the Milky Way's star formation activity. Viewed from the Andromeda Galaxy, it would be the brightest feature of the Milky Way. X-ray emission from the core is aligned with the massive stars surrounding the central bar and the Galactic ridge.
In 2010, two gigantic spherical bubbles of high energy emission were detected to the north and the south of the Milky Way core, using data from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. The diameter of each of the bubbles is about 25,000 light-years (7.7 kpc); they stretch up to Grus and to Virgo on the night-sky of the southern hemisphere. Subsequently, observations with the Parkes Telescope at radio frequencies identified polarized emission that is associated with the Fermi bubbles. These observations are best interpreted as a magnetized outflow driven by star formation in the central 640 ly (200 pc) of the Milky Way.
Later, on January 5, 2015, NASA reported observing an X-ray flare 400 times brighter than usual, a record-breaker, from Sagittarius A*. The unusual event may have been caused by the breaking apart of an asteroid falling into the black hole or by the entanglement of magnetic field lines within gas flowing into Sagittarius A*.
Outside the gravitational influence of the Galactic bars, the structure of the interstellar medium and stars in the disk of the Milky Way is organized into four spiral arms. Spiral arms typically contain a higher density of interstellar gas and dust than the Galactic average as well as a greater concentration of star formation, as traced by H II regions and molecular clouds.
The Milky Way's spiral structure is uncertain, and there is currently no consensus on the nature of the Milky Way's spiral arms. Perfect logarithmic spiral patterns only crudely describe features near the Sun, because galaxies commonly have arms that branch, merge, twist unexpectedly, and feature a degree of irregularity. The possible scenario of the Sun within a spur / Local arm emphasizes that point and indicates that such features are probably not unique, and exist elsewhere in the Milky Way. Estimates of the pitch angle of the arms range from about 7° to 25°. There are thought to be four spiral arms that all start near the Milky Way's center. These are named as follows, with the positions of the arms shown in the image at right:
|cyan||Near 3 kpc Arm and Perseus Arm|
|purple||Norma and Outer arm (Along with extension discovered in 2004)|
|There are at least two smaller arms or spurs, including:|
|orange||Orion–Cygnus Arm (which contains the Sun and Solar System)|
Two spiral arms, the Scutum–Centaurus arm and the Carina–Sagittarius arm, have tangent points inside the Sun's orbit about the center of the Milky Way. If these arms contain an overdensity of stars compared to the average density of stars in the Galactic disk, it would be detectable by counting the stars near the tangent point. Two surveys of near-infrared light, which is sensitive primarily to red giants and not affected by dust extinction, detected the predicted overabundance in the Scutum–Centaurus arm but not in the Carina–Sagittarius arm: the Scutum-Centaurus Arm contains approximately 30% more red giants than would be expected in the absence of a spiral arm. This observation suggests that the Milky Way possesses only two major stellar arms: the Perseus arm and the Scutum–Centaurus arm. The rest of the arms contain excess gas but not excess old stars. In December 2013, astronomers found that the distribution of young stars and star-forming regions matches the four-arm spiral description of the Milky Way. Thus, the Milky Way appears to have two spiral arms as traced by old stars and four spiral arms as traced by gas and young stars. The explanation for this apparent discrepancy is unclear.
The Near 3 kpc Arm (also called Expanding 3 kpc Arm or simply 3 kpc Arm) was discovered in the 1950s by astronomer van Woerden and collaborators through 21-centimeter radio measurements of HI (atomic hydrogen). It was found to be expanding away from the central bulge at more than 50 km/s. It is located in the fourth galactic quadrant at a distance of about 5.2 kpc from the Sun and 3.3 kpc from the Galactic Center. The Far 3 kpc Arm was discovered in 2008 by astronomer Tom Dame (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA). It is located in the first galactic quadrant at a distance of 3 kpc (about 10,000 ly) from the Galactic Center.
It has been suggested that the Milky Way contains two different spiral patterns: an inner one, formed by the Sagittarius arm, that rotates fast and an outer one, formed by the Carina and Perseus arms, whose rotation velocity is slower and whose arms are tightly wound. In this scenario, suggested by numerical simulations of the dynamics of the different spiral arms, the outer pattern would form an outer pseudoring, and the two patterns would be connected by the Cygnus arm.
Outside of the major spiral arms is the Monoceros Ring (or Outer Ring), a ring of gas and stars torn from other galaxies billions of years ago. However, several members of the scientific community recently restated their position affirming the Monoceros structure is nothing more than an over-density produced by the flared and warped thick disk of the Milky Way. The structure of the Milky Way's disk is warped along an "S" curve.
The Galactic disk is surrounded by a spheroidal halo of old stars and globular clusters, of which 90% lie within 100,000 light-years (30 kpc) of the Galactic Center. However, a few globular clusters have been found farther, such as PAL 4 and AM1 at more than 200,000 light-years from the Galactic Center. About 40% of the Milky Way's clusters are on retrograde orbits, which means they move in the opposite direction from the Milky Way rotation. The globular clusters can follow rosette orbits about the Milky Way, in contrast to the elliptical orbit of a planet around a star.
Although the disk contains dust that obscures the view in some wavelengths, the halo component does not. Active star formation takes place in the disk (especially in the spiral arms, which represent areas of high density), but does not take place in the halo, as there is little gas cool enough to collapse into stars. Open clusters are also located primarily in the disk.
Discoveries in the early 21st century have added dimension to the knowledge of the Milky Way's structure. With the discovery that the disk of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) extends much further than previously thought, the possibility of the disk of the Milky Way extending further is apparent, and this is supported by evidence from the discovery of the Outer Arm extension of the Cygnus Arm and of a similar extension of the Scutum-Centaurus Arm. With the discovery of the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy came the discovery of a ribbon of galactic debris as the polar orbit of the dwarf and its interaction with the Milky Way tears it apart. Similarly, with the discovery of the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy, it was found that a ring of galactic debris from its interaction with the Milky Way encircles the Galactic disk.
The Sloan Digital Sky Survey of the northern sky shows a huge and diffuse structure (spread out across an area around 5,000 times the size of a full moon) within the Milky Way that does not seem to fit within current models. The collection of stars rises close to perpendicular to the plane of the spiral arms of the Milky Way. The proposed likely interpretation is that a dwarf galaxy is merging with the Milky Way. This galaxy is tentatively named the Virgo Stellar Stream and is found in the direction of Virgo about 30,000 light-years (9 kpc) away.
In addition to the stellar halo, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, XMM-Newton, and Suzaku have provided evidence that there is a gaseous halo with a large amount of hot gas. The halo extends for hundreds of thousand of light years, much further than the stellar halo and close to the distance of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. The mass of this hot halo is nearly equivalent to the mass of the Milky Way itself. The temperature of this halo gas is between 1 and 2.5 million K (1.8 and 4.5 million oF).
Observations of distant galaxies indicate that the Universe had about one-sixth as much baryonic (ordinary) matter as dark matter when it was just a few billion years old. However, only about half of those baryons are accounted for in the modern Universe based on observations of nearby galaxies like the Milky Way. If the finding that the mass of the halo is comparable to the mass of the Milky Way is confirmed, it could be the identity of the missing baryons around the Milky Way.
The Sun is near the inner rim of the Orion Arm, within the Local Fluff of the Local Bubble, and in the Gould Belt, at a distance of 26.4 ± 1.0 kly (8.09 ± 0.31 kpc) from the Galactic Center. The Sun is currently 5–30 parsecs (16–98 ly) from the central plane of the Galactic disk. The distance between the local arm and the next arm out, the Perseus Arm, is about 2,000 parsecs (6,500 ly). The Sun, and thus the Solar System, is located in the Milky Way's galactic habitable zone.
There are about 208 stars brighter than absolute magnitude 8.5 within a sphere with a radius of 15 parsecs (49 ly) from the Sun, giving a density of one star per 69 cubic parsecs, or one star per 2,360 cubic light-years (from List of nearest bright stars). On the other hand, there are 64 known stars (of any magnitude, not counting 4 brown dwarfs) within 5 parsecs (16 ly) of the Sun, giving a density of about one star per 8.2 cubic parsecs, or one per 284 cubic light-years (from List of nearest stars). This illustrates the fact that there are far more faint stars than bright stars: in the entire sky, there are about 500 stars brighter than apparent magnitude 4 but 15.5 million stars brighter than apparent magnitude 14.
The apex of the Sun's way, or the solar apex, is the direction that the Sun travels through space in the Milky Way. The general direction of the Sun's Galactic motion is towards the star Vega near the constellation of Hercules, at an angle of roughly 60 sky degrees to the direction of the Galactic Center. The Sun's orbit about the Milky Way is expected to be roughly elliptical with the addition of perturbations due to the Galactic spiral arms and non-uniform mass distributions. In addition, the Sun passes through the Galactic plane approximately 2.7 times per orbit. This is very similar to how a simple harmonic oscillator works with no drag force (damping) term. These oscillations were until recently thought to coincide with mass lifeform extinction periods on Earth. However, a reanalysis of the effects of the Sun's transit through the spiral structure based on CO data has failed to find a correlation.
It takes the Solar System about 240 million years to complete one orbit of the Milky Way (a galactic year), so the Sun is thought to have completed 18–20 orbits during its lifetime and 1/1250 of a revolution since the origin of humans. The orbital speed of the Solar System about the center of the Milky Way is approximately 220 km/s (490,000 mph) or 0.073% of the speed of light. The Sun moves through the heliosphere at 84,000 km/h (52,000 mph). At this speed, it takes around 1,400 years for the Solar System to travel a distance of 1 light-year, or 8 days to travel 1 AU (astronomical unit). The Solar System is headed in the direction of the zodiacal constellation Scorpius, which follows the ecliptic.
The stars and gas in the Milky Way rotate about its center differentially, meaning that the rotation period varies with location. As is typical for spiral galaxies, the orbital speed of most stars in the Milky Way does not depend strongly on their distance from the center. Away from the central bulge or outer rim, the typical stellar orbital speed is between 210 ± 10 km/s (470,000 ± 22,000 mph). Hence the orbital period of the typical star is directly proportional only to the length of the path traveled. This is unlike the situation within the Solar System, where two-body gravitational dynamics dominate, and different orbits have significantly different velocities associated with them. The rotation curve (shown in the figure) describes this rotation. Toward the center of the Milky Way the orbit speeds are too low, whereas beyond 7 kpcs the speeds are too high to match what would be expected from the universal law of gravitation.
If the Milky Way contained only the mass observed in stars, gas, and other baryonic (ordinary) matter, the rotation speed would decrease with distance from the center. However, the observed curve is relatively flat, indicating that there is additional mass that cannot be detected directly with electromagnetic radiation. This inconsistency is attributed to dark matter. The rotation curve of the Milky Way agrees with the universal rotation curve of spiral galaxies, the best evidence for the existence of dark matter in galaxies. Alternatively, a minority of astronomers propose that a modification of the law of gravity may explain the observed rotation curve.
The Milky Way began as one or several small overdensities in the mass distribution in the Universe shortly after the Big Bang. Some of these overdensities were the seeds of globular clusters in which the oldest remaining stars in what is now the Milky Way formed. Nearly half the matter in the Milky Way may have come from other distant galaxies. Nonetheless, these stars and clusters now comprise the stellar halo of the Milky Way. Within a few billion years of the birth of the first stars, the mass of the Milky Way was large enough so that it was spinning relatively quickly. Due to conservation of angular momentum, this led the gaseous interstellar medium to collapse from a roughly spheroidal shape to a disk. Therefore, later generations of stars formed in this spiral disk. Most younger stars, including the Sun, are observed to be in the disk.
Since the first stars began to form, the Milky Way has grown through both galaxy mergers (particularly early in the Milky Way's growth) and accretion of gas directly from the Galactic halo. The Milky Way is currently accreting material from several small galaxies, including two of its largest satellite galaxies, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, through the Magellanic Stream. Direct accretion of gas is observed in high-velocity clouds like the Smith Cloud. However, properties of the Milky Way such as stellar mass, angular momentum, and metallicity in its outermost regions suggest it has undergone no mergers with large galaxies in the last 10 billion years. This lack of recent major mergers is unusual among similar spiral galaxies; its neighbour the Andromeda Galaxy appears to have a more typical history shaped by more recent mergers with relatively large galaxies.
According to recent studies, the Milky Way as well as the Andromeda Galaxy lie in what in the galaxy color–magnitude diagram is known as the "green valley", a region populated by galaxies in transition from the "blue cloud" (galaxies actively forming new stars) to the "red sequence" (galaxies that lack star formation). Star-formation activity in green valley galaxies is slowing as they run out of star-forming gas in the interstellar medium. In simulated galaxies with similar properties, star formation will typically have been extinguished within about five billion years from now, even accounting for the expected, short-term increase in the rate of star formation due to the collision between both the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy. In fact, measurements of other galaxies similar to the Milky Way suggest it is among the reddest and brightest spiral galaxies that are still forming new stars and it is just slightly bluer than the bluest red sequence galaxies.
Globular clusters are among the oldest objects in the Milky Way, which thus set a lower limit on the age of the Milky Way. The ages of individual stars in the Milky Way can be estimated by measuring the abundance of long-lived radioactive elements such as thorium-232 and uranium-238, then comparing the results to estimates of their original abundance, a technique called nucleocosmochronology. These yield values of about 12.5 ± 3 billion years for CS 31082-001 and 13.8 ± 4 billion years for BD +17° 3248. Once a white dwarf is formed, it begins to undergo radiative cooling and the surface temperature steadily drops. By measuring the temperatures of the coolest of these white dwarfs and comparing them to their expected initial temperature, an age estimate can be made. With this technique, the age of the globular cluster M4 was estimated as 12.7 ± 0.7 billion years. Age estimates of the oldest of these clusters gives a best fit estimate of 12.6 billion years, and a 95% confidence upper limit of 16 billion years.
Several individual stars have been found in the Milky Way's halo with measured ages very close to the 13.80-billion-year age of the Universe. In 2007, a star in the galactic halo, HE 1523-0901, was estimated to be about 13.2 billion years old. As the oldest known object in the Milky Way at that time, this measurement placed a lower limit on the age of the Milky Way. This estimate was made using the UV-Visual Echelle Spectrograph of the Very Large Telescope to measure the relative strengths of spectral lines caused by the presence of thorium and other elements created by the R-process. The line strengths yield abundances of different elemental isotopes, from which an estimate of the age of the star can be derived using nucleocosmochronology. Another star, HD 140283, is 14.5 ± 0.7 billion years old.
The age of stars in the galactic thin disk has also been estimated using nucleocosmochronology. Measurements of thin disk stars yield an estimate that the thin disk formed 8.8 ± 1.7 billion years ago. These measurements suggest there was a hiatus of almost 5 billion years between the formation of the galactic halo and the thin disk. Recent analysis of the chemical signatures of thousands of stars suggests that stellar formation might have dropped by an order of magnitude at the time of disk formation, 10 to 8 billion years ago, when interstellar gas was too hot to form new stars at the same rate as before.
The satellite galaxies surrounding the Milky way are not randomly distributed but seemed to be the result of a break-up of some larger system producing a ring structure 500,000 light years in diameter and 50,000 light-years wide. Close encounters between galaxies, like that expected in 4 billion years with the Andromeda Galaxy rips off huge tails of gas, which, over time can coalesce to form dwarf galaxies in a ring at an arbitrary angle to the main disc.
In November 2018, astronomers reported the discovery of one of the oldest stars in the universe. About 13.5 billion-years-old, 2MASS J18082002-5104378 B is a tiny ultra metal-poor (UMP) star made almost entirely of materials released from the Big Bang, and is possibly one of the very first stars. The discovery of the star in the Milky Way galaxy suggests that the galaxy may be at least 3 billion years older than previously thought.
The Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy are a binary system of giant spiral galaxies belonging to a group of 50 closely bound galaxies known as the Local Group, surrounded by a Local Void, itself being part of the Virgo Supercluster. Surrounding the Virgo Supercluster are a number of voids, devoid of many galaxies, the Microscopium Void to the "north", the Sculptor Void to the "left", the Bootes Void to the "right" and the Canes-Major Void to the South. These voids change shape over time, creating filamentous structures of galaxies. The Virgo Supercluster, for instance, is being drawn towards the Great Attractor, which in turn forms part of a greater structure, called Laniakea.
Two smaller galaxies and a number of dwarf galaxies in the Local Group orbit the Milky Way. The largest of these is the Large Magellanic Cloud with a diameter of 14,000 light-years. It has a close companion, the Small Magellanic Cloud. The Magellanic Stream is a stream of neutral hydrogen gas extending from these two small galaxies across 100° of the sky. The stream is thought to have been dragged from the Magellanic Clouds in tidal interactions with the Milky Way. Some of the dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way are Canis Major Dwarf (the closest), Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy, Ursa Minor Dwarf, Sculptor Dwarf, Sextans Dwarf, Fornax Dwarf, and Leo I Dwarf. The smallest dwarf galaxies of the Milky Way are only 500 light-years in diameter. These include Carina Dwarf, Draco Dwarf, and Leo II Dwarf. There may still be undetected dwarf galaxies that are dynamically bound to the Milky Way, which is supported by the detection of nine new satellites of the Milky Way in a relatively small patch of the night sky in 2015. There are also some dwarf galaxies that have already been absorbed by the Milky Way, such as the progenitor of Omega Centauri.
In 2014 researchers reported that most satellite galaxies of the Milky Way actually lie in a very large disk and orbit in the same direction. This came as a surprise: according to standard cosmology, the satellite galaxies should form in dark matter halos, and they should be widely distributed and moving in random directions. This discrepancy is still not fully explained.
In January 2006, researchers reported that the heretofore unexplained warp in the disk of the Milky Way has now been mapped and found to be a ripple or vibration set up by the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds as they orbit the Milky Way, causing vibrations when they pass through its edges. Previously, these two galaxies, at around 2% of the mass of the Milky Way, were considered too small to influence the Milky Way. However, in a computer model, the movement of these two galaxies creates a dark matter wake that amplifies their influence on the larger Milky Way.
Current measurements suggest the Andromeda Galaxy is approaching us at 100 to 140 km/s (220,000 to 310,000 mph). In 3 to 4 billion years, there may be an Andromeda–Milky Way collision, depending on the importance of unknown lateral components to the galaxies' relative motion. If they collide, the chance of individual stars colliding with each other is extremely low, but instead the two galaxies will merge to form a single elliptical galaxy or perhaps a large disk galaxy over the course of about a billion years.
Although special relativity states that there is no "preferred" inertial frame of reference in space with which to compare the Milky Way, the Milky Way does have a velocity with respect to cosmological frames of reference.
One such frame of reference is the Hubble flow, the apparent motions of galaxy clusters due to the expansion of space. Individual galaxies, including the Milky Way, have peculiar velocities relative to the average flow. Thus, to compare the Milky Way to the Hubble flow, one must consider a volume large enough so that the expansion of the Universe dominates over local, random motions. A large enough volume means that the mean motion of galaxies within this volume is equal to the Hubble flow. Astronomers believe the Milky Way is moving at approximately 630 km/s (1,400,000 mph) with respect to this local co-moving frame of reference. The Milky Way is moving in the general direction of the Great Attractor and other galaxy clusters, including the Shapley supercluster, behind it. The Local Group (a cluster of gravitationally bound galaxies containing, among others, the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy) is part of a supercluster called the Local Supercluster, centered near the Virgo Cluster: although they are moving away from each other at 967 km/s (2,160,000 mph) as part of the Hubble flow, this velocity is less than would be expected given the 16.8 million pc distance due to the gravitational attraction between the Local Group and the Virgo Cluster.
Another reference frame is provided by the cosmic microwave background (CMB). The Milky Way is moving at 552 ± 6 km/s (1,235,000 ± 13,000 mph) with respect to the photons of the CMB, toward 10.5 right ascension, −24° declination (J2000 epoch, near the center of Hydra). This motion is observed by satellites such as the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) as a dipole contribution to the CMB, as photons in equilibrium in the CMB frame get blue-shifted in the direction of the motion and red-shifted in the opposite direction.
In the Babylonian epic poem Enûma Eliš, the Milky Way is created from the severed tail of the primeval salt water dragoness Tiamat, set in the sky by Marduk, the Babylonian national god, after slaying her. This story was once thought to have been based on an older Sumerian version in which Tiamat is instead slain by Enlil of Nippur, but is now thought to be purely an invention of Babylonian propagandists with the intention to show Marduk as superior to the Sumerian deities.
Llys Dôn (literally "The Court of Dôn") is the traditional Welsh name for the constellation Cassiopeia. At least three of Dôn's children also have astronomical associations: Caer Gwydion ("The fortress of Gwydion") is the traditional Welsh name for the Milky Way, and Caer Arianrhod ("The Fortress of Arianrhod") being the constellation of Corona Borealis.
In western culture, the name "Milky Way" is derived from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky. The term is a translation of the Classical Latin via lactea, in turn derived from the Hellenistic Greek γαλαξίας, short for γαλαξίας κύκλος (galaxías kýklos, "milky circle"). The Ancient Greek γαλαξίας (galaxias) – from root γαλακτ-, γάλα ("milk") + -ίας (forming adjectives) – is also the root of "galaxy", the name for our, and later all such, collections of stars.
In Greek mythology, the Milky Way was formed after the trickster god Hermes suckled the infant Heracles at the breast of Hera, the queen of the gods, while she was asleep. When Hera awoke, she tore Heracles away from her breast and splattered her breast milk across the heavens. In another version of the story, Athena, the patron goddess of heroes, tricked Hera into suckling Heracles voluntarily, but he bit her nipple so hard that she flung him away, spraying milk everywhere.
The Milky Way, or "milk circle", was just one of 11 "circles" the Greeks identified in the sky, others being the zodiac, the meridian, the horizon, the equator, the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, Arctic and Antarctic circles, and two colure circles passing through both poles.
In Meteorologica (DK 59 A80), Aristotle (384–322 BC) wrote that the Greek philosophers Anaxagoras (c. 500–428 BC) and Democritus (460–370 BC) proposed that the Milky Way might consist of distant stars. However, Aristotle himself believed the Milky Way to be caused by "the ignition of the fiery exhalation of some stars which were large, numerous and close together" and that the "ignition takes place in the upper part of the atmosphere, in the region of the world which is continuous with the heavenly motions." The Neoplatonist philosopher Olympiodorus the Younger (c. 495–570 A.D.) criticized this view, arguing that if the Milky Way were sublunary, it should appear different at different times and places on Earth, and that it should have parallax, which it does not. In his view, the Milky Way is celestial. This idea would be influential later in the Islamic world.
The Persian astronomer Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī (973–1048) proposed that the Milky Way is "a collection of countless fragments of the nature of nebulous stars". The Andalusian astronomer Avempace (d 1138) proposed the Milky Way to be made up of many stars but appears to be a continuous image due to the effect of refraction in Earth's atmosphere, citing his observation of a conjunction of Jupiter and Mars in 1106 or 1107 as evidence. Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya (1292–1350) proposed that the Milky Way is "a myriad of tiny stars packed together in the sphere of the fixed stars" and that these stars are larger than planets.
According to Jamil Ragep, the Persian astronomer Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (1201–1274) in his Tadhkira writes: "The Milky Way, i.e. the Galaxy, is made up of a very large number of small, tightly clustered stars, which, on account of their concentration and smallness, seem to be cloudy patches. Because of this, it was likened to milk in color."
Actual proof of the Milky Way consisting of many stars came in 1610 when Galileo Galilei used a telescope to study the Milky Way and discovered that it is composed of a huge number of faint stars. In a treatise in 1755, Immanuel Kant, drawing on earlier work by Thomas Wright, speculated (correctly) that the Milky Way might be a rotating body of a huge number of stars, held together by gravitational forces akin to the Solar System but on much larger scales. The resulting disk of stars would be seen as a band on the sky from our perspective inside the disk. Kant also conjectured that some of the nebulae visible in the night sky might be separate "galaxies" themselves, similar to our own. Kant referred to both the Milky Way and the "extragalactic nebulae" as "island universes", a term still current up to the 1930s.
The first attempt to describe the shape of the Milky Way and the position of the Sun within it was carried out by William Herschel in 1785 by carefully counting the number of stars in different regions of the visible sky. He produced a diagram of the shape of the Milky Way with the Solar System close to the center.
In 1845, Lord Rosse constructed a new telescope and was able to distinguish between elliptical and spiral-shaped nebulae. He also managed to make out individual point sources in some of these nebulae, lending credence to Kant's earlier conjecture.
In 1904, studying the proper motions of stars, Jacobus Kapteyn reported that these were not random, as it was believed in that time; stars could be divided into two streams, moving in nearly opposite directions. It was later realized that Kapteyn's data had been the first evidence of the rotation of our Galaxy, which ultimately led to the finding of galactic rotation by Bertil Lindblad and Jan Oort.
In 1917, Heber Curtis had observed the nova S Andromedae within the Great Andromeda Nebula (Messier object 31). Searching the photographic record, he found 11 more novae. Curtis noticed that these novae were, on average, 10 magnitudes fainter than those that occurred within the Milky Way. As a result, he was able to come up with a distance estimate of 150,000 parsecs. He became a proponent of the "island universes" hypothesis, which held that the spiral nebulae were actually independent galaxies. In 1920 the Great Debate took place between Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, concerning the nature of the Milky Way, spiral nebulae, and the dimensions of the Universe. To support his claim that the Great Andromeda Nebula is an external galaxy, Curtis noted the appearance of dark lanes resembling the dust clouds in the Milky Way, as well as the significant Doppler shift.
The controversy was conclusively settled by Edwin Hubble in the early 1920s using the Mount Wilson observatory 2.5 m (100 in) Hooker telescope. With the light-gathering power of this new telescope, he was able to produce astronomical photographs that resolved the outer parts of some spiral nebulae as collections of individual stars. He was also able to identify some Cepheid variables that he could use as a benchmark to estimate the distance to the nebulae. He found that the Andromeda Nebula is 275,000 parsecs from the Sun, far too distant to be part of the Milky Way.
The team estimates there are about twice as many of them as stars.
The Andromeda Galaxy (), also known as Messier 31, M31, or NGC 224, is a spiral galaxy approximately 780 kiloparsecs (2.5 million light-years) from Earth, and the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way. Its name stems from the area of the Earth's sky in which it appears, the constellation of Andromeda.
The 2006 observations by the Spitzer Space Telescope revealed that the Andromeda Galaxy contains approximately one trillion stars, more than twice the number of the Milky Way's estimated 200 to 400 billion stars. The Andromeda Galaxy's mass is estimated to be around 1.76 times that of the Milky Way Galaxy (~0.8-1.5×1012 solar masses vs the Milky Way's 8.5×1011 solar masses), though a 2018 study found that the Andromeda Galaxy's mass is roughly the same as the Milky Way's. The Andromeda Galaxy, spanning approximately 220,000 light-years, is the largest galaxy in the Local Group, which is also home to the Triangulum Galaxy and other minor galaxies.
The Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies are expected to collide in ~4.5 billion years, merging to form a giant elliptical galaxy or a large disc galaxy.
With an apparent magnitude of 3.4, the Andromeda Galaxy is among the brightest of the Messier objects making it visible to the naked eye from Earth on moonless nights, even when viewed from areas with moderate light pollution.Andromeda–Milky Way collision
The Andromeda–Milky Way collision is a galactic collision predicted to occur in about 3.75 billion years between two galaxies in the Local Group—the Milky Way (which contains the Solar System and Earth) and the Andromeda Galaxy. The stars involved are sufficiently far apart that it is improbable that any of them will individually collide. Some stars will be ejected from the resulting galaxy, nicknamed Milkomeda or Milkdromeda.Galactic Center
The Galactic Center, or Galactic Centre, is the rotational center of the Milky Way. It is 8,122 ± 31 parsecs (26,490 ± 100 ly) away from Earth in the direction of the constellations Sagittarius, Ophiuchus, and Scorpius where the Milky Way appears brightest. It coincides with the compact radio source Sagittarius A*.
There are around 10 million stars within one parsec of the Galactic Center, dominated by red giants. There is also a significant population of massive supergiants and Wolf-Rayet stars from a star formation event around one million years ago. There is a supermassive black hole of 4.100 ± 0.034 million solar masses at the Galactic Center, which powers the Sagittarius A* radio source.Galactic astronomy
Galactic astronomy is the study of the Milky Way galaxy and all its contents. This is in contrast to extragalactic astronomy, which is the study of everything outside our galaxy, including all other galaxies.
Galactic astronomy should not be confused with galaxy formation and evolution, which is the general study of galaxies, their formation, structure, components, dynamics, interactions, and the range of forms they take.
The Milky Way galaxy, where the Solar System belongs, is in many ways the best studied galaxy, although important parts of it are obscured from view in visible wavelengths by regions of cosmic dust. The development of radio astronomy, infrared astronomy and submillimetre astronomy in the 20th Century allowed the gas and dust of the Milky Way to be mapped for the first time.Galactic halo
A galactic halo is an extended, roughly spherical component of a galaxy which extends beyond the main, visible component. Several distinct components of galaxies comprise the halo:
the stellar halo
the galactic corona (hot gas, i.e. a plasma)
the dark matter haloThe distinction between the halo and the main body of the galaxy is clearest in spiral galaxies, where the spherical shape of the halo contrasts with the flat disc. In an elliptical galaxy, there is no sharp transition between the other components of the galaxy and the halo.Galactic year
The galactic year, also known as a cosmic year, is the duration of time required for the Sun to orbit once around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. Estimates of the length of one orbit range from 225 to 250 million terrestrial years. The Solar System is traveling at an average speed of 828,000 km/h (230 km/s) or 514,000 mph (143 mi/s) within its trajectory around the galactic center, a speed at which an object could circumnavigate the Earth's equator in 2 minutes and 54 seconds; that speed corresponds to approximately 1/1300 of the speed of light.
The galactic year provides a conveniently usable unit for depicting cosmic and geological time periods together. By contrast, a "billion-year" scale does not allow for useful discrimination between geologic events, and a "million-year" scale requires some rather large numbers.Galaxy
A galaxy is a gravitationally bound system of stars, stellar remnants, interstellar gas, dust, and dark matter. The word galaxy is derived from the Greek galaxias (γαλαξίας), literally "milky", a reference to the Milky Way. Galaxies range in size from dwarfs with just a few hundred million (108) stars to giants with one hundred trillion (1014) stars, each orbiting its galaxy's center of mass.
Galaxies are categorized according to their visual morphology as elliptical, spiral, or irregular. Many galaxies are thought to have supermassive black holes at their centers. The Milky Way's central black hole, known as Sagittarius A*, has a mass four million times greater than the Sun. As of March 2016, GN-z11 is the oldest and most distant observed galaxy with a comoving distance of 32 billion light-years from Earth, and observed as it existed just 400 million years after the Big Bang.
Research released in 2016 revised the number of galaxies in the observable universe from a previous estimate of 200 billion (2×1011) to a suggested 2 trillion (2×1012) or more, containing more stars than all the grains of sand on planet Earth. Most of the galaxies are 1,000 to 100,000 parsecs in diameter (approximately 3000 to 300,000 light years) and separated by distances on the order of millions of parsecs (or megaparsecs). For comparison, the Milky Way has a diameter of at least 30,000 parsecs (100,000 LY) and is separated from the Andromeda Galaxy, its nearest large neighbor, by 780,000 parsecs (2.5 million LY).
The space between galaxies is filled with a tenuous gas (the intergalactic medium) having an average density of less than one atom per cubic meter. The majority of galaxies are gravitationally organized into groups, clusters, and superclusters. The Milky Way is part of the Local Group, which is dominated by it and the Andromeda Galaxy and is part of the Virgo Supercluster. At the largest scale, these associations are generally arranged into sheets and filaments surrounded by immense voids. The largest structure of galaxies yet recognised is a cluster of superclusters that has been named Laniakea, which contains the Virgo supercluster.Gould Belt
The Gould Belt is a partial ring of stars in the Milky Way, about 3000 light years across, tilted toward the galactic plane by about 16 to 20 degrees. It contains many O- and B-type stars, and may represent the local spiral arm to which the Sun belongs—currently the Sun is about 325 light years from the arm's center. The belt is thought to be from 30 to 50 million years old, and of unknown origin. It is named after Benjamin Gould, who identified it in 1879.The belt contains bright stars in many constellations including (in order going more or less eastward) Cepheus, Lacerta, Perseus, Orion, Canis Major, Puppis, Vela, Carina, Crux (the Southern Cross), Centaurus, Lupus, and Scorpius (including the Scorpius-Centaurus Association). The Milky Way visible in the sky also passes through most of these constellations, but a bit southeast of Lupus.Large Magellanic Cloud
The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. At a distance of about 50 kiloparsecs (≈163,000 light-years), the LMC is the second- or third-closest galaxy to the Milky Way, after the Sagittarius Dwarf Spheroidal (~16 kpc) and the possible dwarf irregular galaxy known as the Canis Major Overdensity. Based on readily visible stars and a mass of approximately 10 billion solar masses, the diameter of the LMC is about 14,000 light-years (4.3 kpc), making it roughly one one-hundredth as massive as the Milky Way. This makes the LMC the fourth-largest galaxy in the Local Group, after the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the Milky Way, and the Triangulum Galaxy (M33).
The LMC is classified as a Magellanic spiral. It contains a stellar bar that is geometrically off-center, suggesting that it was a barred dwarf spiral galaxy before its spiral arms were disrupted, likely by tidal interactions from the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), and the Milky Way's gravity.With a declination of about -70°, the LMC is visible as a faint "cloud" only in the southern celestial hemisphere and from latitudes south of 20° N, straddling the border between the constellations of Dorado and Mensa, and appears longer than 20 times the Moon's diameter (about 10° across) from dark sites away from light pollution.The Milky Way and the LMC are expected to collide in approximately 2.4 billion years.List of nearest galaxies
This is a list of known galaxies within 3.59 megaparsecs (11.7 million light-years) of the Solar System, in ascending order of distance.
This encompasses all of the about 50 Local Group galaxies, and some that are members of neighboring galaxy groups, the M81 Group and the Centaurus A/M83 Group, and some that are currently not in any defined galaxy group.
The list aims to reflect current knowledge: not all galaxies within the 3.59 Mpc radius have been discovered. Nearby dwarf galaxies are still being discovered, and galaxies located behind the central plane of the Milky Way are extremely difficult to discern. It is possible for any galaxy to mask another located beyond it.
Intergalactic distance measurements are subject to large uncertainties. Figures listed are composites of many measurements, some of which may have had their individual error bars tightened to the point of no longer overlapping with each other.List of novae in the Milky Way galaxy
This is a partial list of novae in the Milky Way galaxy that have been discovered and recorded since 1891. Novae are stars that undergo dramatic explosions, but unlike supernovae, these do not result in the destruction of the original star. The likely rate of novae in the Milky Way is about 40 per year, but of these only about 10 per year are discovered by observers as of the 2000s (decade). This list attempts to include only the brighter or more notable novae.
The Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT) maintains a more complete list of novae in the Milky Way since 1612.Local Group
The Local Group is the galaxy group that includes the Milky Way. The Local Group comprises more than 54 galaxies, most of them dwarf galaxies. Its gravitational center is located somewhere between the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy. The Local Group has a diameter of 10 Mly (3.1 Mpc) (about 1023 meters) and has a binary (dumbbell)
distribution. The group itself is a part of the larger Virgo Supercluster, which may be a part of the Laniakea Supercluster.
The three largest members of the group (in descending order) are the Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way and the significantly smaller Triangulum Galaxy. The larger two of these spiral galaxies each have their own system of satellite galaxies.
The Andromeda Galaxy's satellite system consists of Messier 32 (M32), Messier 110 (M110), NGC 147, NGC 185, Andromeda I (And I), And II, And III, And V, And VI (also known as Pegasus Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxy, or Pegasus DSph), And VII (also known as Cassiopeia Dwarf Galaxy), And VIII, And IX, And X, And XI, And XIX, And XXI and And XXII, plus several additional ultra-faint dwarf spheroidal galaxies.
The Milky Way's satellite galaxies system comprises Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy, Large Magellanic Cloud, Small Magellanic Cloud, Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy (disputed, considered by some not a galaxy), Ursa Minor Dwarf Galaxy, Draco Dwarf Galaxy, Carina Dwarf Galaxy, Sextans Dwarf Galaxy, Sculptor Dwarf Galaxy, Fornax Dwarf Galaxy, Leo I (a dwarf galaxy), Leo II (a dwarf galaxy), and Ursa Major I Dwarf Galaxy and Ursa Major II Dwarf Galaxy, plus several additional ultra-faint dwarf spheroidal galaxies.
The Triangulum Galaxy may or may not be a companion to the Andromeda Galaxy. Pisces Dwarf Galaxy is equidistant from the Andromeda Galaxy and the Triangulum Galaxy, so it may be a satellite of either.
The membership of NGC 3109, with its companions Sextans A and the Antlia Dwarf Galaxy, is uncertain due to extreme distances from the center of the Local Group.
The other members of the group are likely gravitationally secluded from these large subgroups: IC 10, IC 1613, Phoenix Dwarf Galaxy, Leo A, Tucana Dwarf Galaxy, Cetus Dwarf Galaxy, Pegasus Dwarf Irregular Galaxy, Wolf–Lundmark–Melotte, Aquarius Dwarf Galaxy, and Sagittarius Dwarf Irregular Galaxy.Milky Way (chocolate bar)
The Milky Way bar is a chocolate-covered confectionary bar manufactured and distributed by the Mars confectionery company. Introduced in 1923, the Milky Way bar's American version is made of caramel and covered with milk chocolate, similar to the Mars bar sold outside of the U.S. The global Milky Way is a different chocolate candy bar similar to the American 3 Musketeers.Orion Arm
The Orion Arm is a minor spiral arm of the Milky Way some 3,500 light-years (1,100 parsecs) across and approximately 10,000 light-years (3,100 parsecs) in length, containing the Solar System, including the Earth. It is also referred to by its full name, the Orion–Cygnus Arm, as well as Local Arm, Orion Bridge, and formerly, the Local Spur and Orion Spur.
The arm is named for the Orion constellation, which is one of the most prominent constellations of Northern Hemisphere winter (Southern Hemisphere summer). Some of the brightest stars and most famous celestial objects of the constellation (e.g. Betelgeuse, Rigel, the three stars of Orion's Belt, the Orion Nebula) are within it as shown on the interactive map below.
The arm is between the Carina–Sagittarius Arm (the local portions of which are toward the Galactic Center) and the Perseus Arm (the local portion of which is the main outer-most arm and one of two major arms of the galaxy).
Long thought to be a minor structure, namely a "spur" between the two arms mentioned, evidence was presented in mid 2013 that the Orion Arm might be a branch of the Perseus Arm, or possibly an independent arm segment.Within the arm, the Solar System is close to its inner rim, in a relative cavity in the arm's Interstellar Medium known as the Local Bubble, about halfway along the arm's length, approximately 8,000 parsecs (26,000 light-years) from the Galactic Center.Sagittarius A*
Sagittarius A* (pronounced "Sagittarius A-star", standard abbreviation Sgr A*) is a bright and very compact astronomical radio source at the center of the Milky Way, near the border of the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius. It is part of a larger astronomical feature known as Sagittarius A. Sagittarius A* is the location of a supermassive black hole, like those that are now generally accepted to be at the centers of most if not all spiral and elliptical galaxies. Observations of a number of stars, most notably the star S2, orbiting around Sagittarius A* have been used to show the presence of, and produce data about, the Milky Way's central supermassive black hole, and have led to the conclusion that Sagittarius A* is the site of that black hole.Satellite galaxies of the Milky Way
The Milky Way has several smaller galaxies gravitationally bound to it, as part of the Milky Way subgroup, which is part of the local galaxy cluster, the Local Group.There are 59 small galaxies confirmed to be within 420 kiloparsecs (1.4 million light-years) of the Milky Way, but not all of them are necessarily in orbit, and some may themselves be in orbit of other satellite galaxies. The only ones visible to the naked eye are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, which have been observed since prehistory. Measurements with the Hubble Space Telescope in 2006 suggest the Magellanic Clouds may be moving too fast to be orbiting the Milky Way. Of the galaxies confirmed to be in orbit, the largest is the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy, which has a diameter of 2.6 kiloparsecs (8,500 ly) or roughly a twentieth that of the Milky Way.Stellar kinematics
In astronomy, stellar kinematics is the observational study or measurement of the kinematics or motions of stars through space. The subject of stellar kinematics encompasses the measurement of stellar velocities in the Milky Way and its satellites as well as the measurement of the internal kinematics of more distant galaxies. Measurement of the kinematics of stars in different subcomponents of the Milky Way including the thin disk, the thick disk, the bulge, and the stellar halo provides important information about the formation and evolutionary history of our Galaxy. Kinematic measurements can also identify exotic phenomena such as hypervelocity stars escaping from the Milky Way, which are interpreted as the result of gravitational encounters of binary stars with the supermassive black hole at the Galactic Center.
Stellar kinematics is related to but distinct from the subject of stellar dynamics, which involves the theoretical study or modeling of the motions of stars under the influence of gravity. Stellar-dynamical models of systems such as galaxies or star clusters are often compared with or tested against stellar-kinematic data to study their evolutionary history and mass distributions, and to detect the presence of dark matter or supermassive black holes through their gravitational influence on stellar orbits.Supermassive black hole
A supermassive black hole (SMBH or sometimes SBH) is the largest type of black hole, containing a mass of the order of hundreds of thousands, to billions times, the mass of the Sun (M☉). This is a class of astronomical objects that has undergone gravitational collapse, leaving behind a spheroidal region of space from which nothing can escape; not even light. Observational evidence indicates that all, or nearly all, massive galaxies contain a supermassive black hole, located at the galaxy's center. In the case of the Milky Way, the supermassive black hole corresponds to the location of Sagittarius A* at the Galactic Core. Accretion of interstellar gas onto supermassive black holes is the process responsible for powering quasars and other types of active galactic nuclei.Under the Milky Way
"Under the Milky Way" is a single by Australian alternative rock band The Church, released on 15 February 1988 and appears on their fifth studio album Starfish. The song was written by bass guitarist and lead vocalist Steve Kilbey and his then-girlfriend Karin Jansson of Curious (Yellow). It peaked at No. 22 on the Australian Kent Music Report Singles Chart, No. 24 on the United States Billboard Hot 100, No. 25 on the New Zealand Singles Chart and appeared in the Dutch Single Top 100. At the ARIA Music Awards of 1989, the song won 'Single of the Year'. It was issued simultaneously in both 7" vinyl and 12" vinyl formats by Arista Records (internationally) and Mushroom Records (Australian region).
The Milky Way
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