MadSci Network: Astronomy

Re: How do we get external pictures of our galaxy, if we are within it?

Date: Tue Feb 15 19:46:12 2000
Posted By: James Steele Foerch, Instructor, Pine Creative Arts Academy
Area of science: Astronomy
ID: 950222776.As

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 
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 
( 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

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