We all live in a galaxy called the Milky Way, but we can hardly see it. To assess its full scale, we need to look at it from the side. That’s why we only have a small piece of the big picture available for observation. But even that small amount of information we’ve gathered so far is simply astounding.
Here are the top 19 almost unbelievable facts about the Milky Way.
1. The Milky Way is about 120,000 light-years in diameter with a thickening in the center. But its shape is far from being perfectly flat and looks slightly “distorted.”
2. According to the scientists, there are about 200 billion stars in the Milky Way. For comparison, the largest galaxy known to us, IC 1101, has more than 100 trillion stars, which is 500 times more.
3. In Greek mythology, the Milky Way was created when Hera spilled milk while breastfeeding Hercules.
4. The Milky Way has four spiral arms containing most of the stars. All sentient creatures (that we know of) live near the center of the Perseus arm.
5. At the center of the galaxy is a supermassive black hole that is millions of times more massive than our Sun. The Earth is about 27,000 light-years away from that cosmic goodness.
6. While the solar system moves at an average speed of 828,812 km/h, it will still take about 230 million years to orbit the entire Milky Way.
7. Astronomers believe that the stars, planets, asteroids and dust we see make up only a tenth of the total mass of our galaxy. The remaining 90% is the so-called dark matter.
8. It’s been estimated that seven new stars form in the Milky Way galaxy each year. They are born from gas and stardust, which, in turn, are the remnants of exploding stars.
9. The collision of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies is inevitable. Good news is, it will take them about 4.5 billion years. And since the density of stars in these galaxies is quite low, they are likely to simply pass through each other.
10. These two galaxies are part of a group of more than 54 galaxies called the Local Group. The largest galaxy is Andromeda, the Milky Way is number two, and the Triangulum galaxy is in third place.
11. All the stars in our galaxy account for only about 3% of its mass.
12. Despite the billions of stars out there, you can see no more than 2,500 of them using a regular telescope.
13. Our planet is in the center of the habitable zone of our galaxy. The closer to the galactic center we get, the stronger the cosmic radiation.
14. Due to its huge mass, our galaxy often attracts stars from other smaller clusters.
15. Scientists estimate that our universe has existed for just under 14 billion years. In this case, the age of the Milky Way is estimated at 13.5-13.6 billion years, whaich is almost the same age as the universe.
16. The Milky Way hasn’t always been a beautiful curved spiral. It had to absorb countless other galaxies to get in shape.
17. As the planets have satellites, so does the Milky Way. These are relatively small (by cosmic standards) star clusters.
18. The Milky Way and Andromeda are charging at each other at a neckbreaking speed of 140 km per second.
19. The globular cluster of Omega Centauri used to be a dwarf galaxy, but most of its stars have already been absorbed by the Milky Way.