|MadSci Network: Astronomy|
Dear Gregg, You are very astute: There is no way to photograph our Milky Way galaxy from the outside because we live in it approximately two-thirds of the way out from the center. Astronomers are still trying to determine the exact size and shape of our galaxy. (See the positional data for every star ever catalogued at http://adc.gsfc.nasa.gov/adc/quick_ref/ref_stellar.html) We assume it is a disk-shaped, spiral cloud of stars, dust and gas clouds because it runs right around the sky. All the individual stars you can see are part of it. Your favorite constellation, Orion, is in the next arm over from ours. I can't clearly answer your questions about finding objects in this email, so here's what you should do. 1. Get a planisphere (museum and planetarium giftshops, better bookstores, local astronomy club) which is a map to the sky at any time of night, any night of the year. 2. Have your folks drive you out to the dark skies of the country in late summer and fall to see our "big sister" galaxy, Andromeda. Take along a pair of binoculars for a closer look. 3. If you are a computer user, down load the demo version of Distant Suns (www.distantsuns.com). With it you can turn your computer into your own private planetarium. In conclusion, any picture you may have seen of our Milky Way is either an artists conception or a photo of some other spiral galaxy. Thank you for asking and keep your eyes on the stars! Jim Foerch James C. Veen Observatory Lowell, Michigan
Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Astronomy.