HOME
        TheInfoList






The Milky Way[a] is the galaxy that contains our Solar System, with the name describing 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 (The Milky Way[a] is the galaxy that contains our Solar System, with the name describing 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").[18][19][20] 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.[21] Following the 1920 Great Debate between the astronomers Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis,[22] observations by Edwin Hubble showed that the Milky Way is just one of many galaxies.

The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy with an estimated visible diameter of 1.9 million light-years (ly), give or take 0.4 million light years.[23][24][25][26] It is estimated to contain 100–400 billion stars[27][28] and at least that number of planets.[29][30] The dark matter halo around the Milky Way may span as much as 2 million light years.[5] The Solar System is located at a radius of about 27,000 light-years from the Galactic Center,[14] 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*, 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%)[31][32] 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".[33] The rotational period is about 240 million years at the radius of the Sun.[15] 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.[34]

The Milky Way has several satellite galaxies and is part of the Local Group of galaxies, which form part of the Virgo Supercluster, which is itself a component of the Laniakea Supercluster.[35][36]

The Milky Way began as one or several small overdensities in the mass distribution in the Universe shortly after the Big Bang.[169] Some of these overdensities

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.[33] 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.[168]

The Milky Way began as one or several small overdensities in the mass distribution in the Universe shortly after the Big Bang.[169] 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.[169] 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.[170][171]

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.[171] The Milky Way is currently accreting material from several small galaxies, including two of its largest satellite galaxies, the galaxy mergers (particularly early in the Milky Way's growth) and accretion of gas directly from the Galactic halo.[171] 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.[172][173] 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.[174][175]

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.[176] 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.[177]

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[179] and 13.8 ± 4 billion years for BD +17° 3248.[180] 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.[181]

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 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.[182][183][184]

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.[185&#

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 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.[182][183][184]

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.[185] 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.[185] Another star, HD 140283, is 14.5 ± 0.7 billion years old.[34][186]

According to observations utilizing adaptive optics to correct for Earth's atmospheric distortion, stars in the galaxy's bulge date to about 12.8 billion years old.[187]

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.[188] 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.[189]

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.[190] 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.[191]

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,[192] which in turn forms part of a greater structure, called Laniakea.[193]

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.[194] 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.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.[194] 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.[195] There are also some dwarf galaxies that have already been absorbed by the Milky Way, such as the progenitor of Omega Centauri.[196]

In 2014 researchers reported that most satellite galaxies of the Milky Way lie in a very large disk and orbit in the same direction.[197] 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.[198]

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.[199]

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[200] over the course of about a billion years.[201]

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,

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.[202][failed verification] The Milky Way is moving in the general direction of the Great Attractor and other galaxy clusters, including the Shapley supercluster, behind it.[203] 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.[204]

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)[17] 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.[17]

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.[205][206] This story was once thought to have been based on an older Sumerian version in which Tiamat is instead slain by Enlil of Nippur,[207][208] but is now thought to be purely an invention of Babylonian propagandists with the intention to show Marduk as superior to the Sumerian deities.[208]

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,[209][210] and Caer Arianrhod ("The Fortress of Arianrhod") being the constellation of Corona Borealis.[citation needed]

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 (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,[209][210] and Caer Arianrhod ("The Fortress of Arianrhod") being the constellation of Corona Borealis.[citation needed]

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.[18][211][212][213]

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.[214][215] When Hera awoke, she tore Heracles away from her breast and splattered her breast milk across the heavens.[214][215] In another version of the story, Athena, the patron goddess of heroes, tricked Hera into suckling Heracles voluntarily,[214][215] but he bit her nipple so hard that she flung him away, spraying milk everywhere.[214][215]

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.[216]

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.[217] 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"[218] 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."[219][220] The Neoplatonist philosopher Olympiodorus the Younger (c. 495–570 AD) 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.[221]

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".[222] 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.[220] Ibn Qayyim Al-Jaw

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".[222] 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.[220] 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.[223]

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."[224]

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.[225][226] In a treatise in 1755, Immanuel Kant, drawing on earlier work by Thomas Wright,[227] 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.[228] The resulting disk of stars would be seen as a band on the sky from our perspective inside the disk. Wright and 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.[229][230][231]

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.[232]

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.[233][234]

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.[235] It was later realized that Kapteyn's data had been the first evidence of the rotation of our galaxy,[236] 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 t

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 independent galaxies.[237][238] 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.[239]

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.[240][241]

The ESA spacecraft Gaia provides distance estimates by determining the parallax of a billion stars and is mapping the Milky Way with four planned releases of maps in 2016, 2018, 2021 and 2024.[242][243] A study in 2020 concluded that Gaia detected a wobbling motion of the galaxy, which might be caused by "torques from a misalignment of the disc's rotation axis with respect to the principle axis of a non-spherical halo, or from accreted matter in the halo acquired during late infall, or from nearby, interacting satellite galaxies and their consequent tides".[244]

See also