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A river of stars in the darkest skies; Stargazing.


ON A dark, clear, starry night, when there is no Moon in the sky, you can sometimes see a misty band of light arching its way across the sky.

This is the Milky Way, our inside view of our galaxy.

The Milky Way appears to pass through lots of well-known constellations - Cygnus, Perseus, Scorpius and Sagittarius.

It varies in brightness quite noticeably across the sky, and also varies in width, with parts easily visible and spread across 30 degrees of the sky.

But what is the Milky Way? Nobody really had an idea until the invention of the telescope and an astronomer called Galileo who, nearly number of arms of material spiral out. If we were able to step outside our home galaxy and view it from a distance, we would see that the Milky Way would perhaps have the appearance of a Catherine wheel (or a flying saucer when viewed edgeways).

But we are inside it, looking through the disc, through an expanse of about 100billion stars.

It is a deeply complex thing despite its simple shape.

Like the other stars within it, the Sun moves in a circle around the galactic centre.

It completes one orbit every 225million years, in a time period known as a "cosmic year".

To the ancient Chinese 400 years ago, turned his telescope to the night sky.

He was amazed by what he observed and would have had a similar view to that seen in simple binoculars today. Its white hazy band resolves in a mass of faint stars, too numerous to count.

In places, the Milky Way is split by dark right where appear to be hardly any stars at all. But this is not actually the case. There are stars there but clouds of dust block our view of their light.

The Milky Way, as we see it, is a sideways view across the galaxy which we inhabit along with our Sun and all the other stars in the sky.

It takes the form of a disc with a prominent bulge at the centre, from which and Arabic astronomers, the Milky Way was often seen as a spiritual river in the sky.

Some Native Americans saw it as a path that led souls to the afterlife. The Vikings thought it as part of the Bifrost - a road to Valhalla.

However, the term Milky Way comes to use from the ancient Greeks and Romans who referred to it as the "Milky Road". The Greek for milk, gala, is the source of the word "galaxy".

The photographers among you will know that photography of the night sky can reveal why the Milky Way gets its name.

Long exposure photos yield a clearer understanding of the shape and structure of the Milky Way.


BAND OF STARS Milky Way over Ayrshire: Pic: Alasdair MacLeod

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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 15, 2016
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