The summer night sky elicits an extra sparkle of excitement when we see the silvery, arcing band of the Milky Way, a beautiful cross-cut view of our home galaxy.
I’m always looking to see how rich it can appear, with its contrasting light and dark areas, sometimes even hues of dark purple strewn throughout its dust, gases, and billions of stars. The bright, glowing areas are concentrations of millions of stars too faint to see as individual stars. The darker areas are clouds of interstellar dust blocking light of the stars beyond.
Flat like a pancake, this spiral-shaped galaxy of ours is about 100,000 light-years across. All the stars we see in the night sky with our unaided eyes are within our Milky Way Galaxy. Our solar system is located about 26,000 light-years from the Milky Way’s center, about two-thirds of the way out. For perspective, when we look south at the large, tea-pot asterism in the constellation Sagittarius, we are looking toward the center of our galaxy! This area is rich in star clusters and nebulae. On the opposite end, when we look to the constellation Perseus in the northern sky, we are looking in the direction away from the center.
Looking into the night sky is humbling. There is so much more out there, more that we desire to learn about, and so much we don’t yet know… on our one blue dot in this one solar system, within this one galaxy we call the Milky Way, amongst millions of other galaxies. Simultaneously, I hope we are grateful that we have the opportunity to exist at all, in this vast stellar arena. What a wonderful treat the summer night sky affords us, as about two-thirds of Americans have never seen the Milky Way due to light pollution – so be sure to check out our home galaxy view under a dark sky near you!
More information about the Milky Way can be found here: <a href="http://www.universetoday.com/22285/facts-about-the-milky-way/">www.universetoday.com/22285/facts-about-the-milky-way/</a>
You’ve been listening to “Western Slope Skies,” produced by members of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. This episode was written and recorded by Park Ranger Angela Trnka of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.