15 Fascinating Facts About Our Home Galaxy: The Milky Way

Every image of the Milky Way taken from space that you may have seen so far is either an artist’s impression or of another galaxy.

The Milky Way has puzzled scientists and philosophers across the world for centuries. This galaxy is our home and comprises our planet, our solar system, and billions of stars and planets.

The Milky Way is steeped in mythology from ancient times, across different civilizations and countries, each with its own explanation for the creation of this awe-inspiring all-encompassing concept, from spilled cornmeal to a river placed there by greedy gods.

Here are 15 amazing facts about the Milky Way.

In 1620, Galileo identified the Milky Way’s band of light as individual stars, but the true shape and extent of the Milky Way, as well as the presence of other galaxies beyond it, were discovered by American astronomer Edwin Hubble.

The Milky Way and another spiral galaxy, Andromeda, are moving towards each other at a speed of 120 km per second (75 miles per second) and will collide in over 4 billion years.

A supermassive black hole is believed to be at the rotational center of the Milky Way.

The name “Milky Way” comes from the Greek “galaxías kýklos” or “milky circle” because it appears as a faint, milky band in the sky.

According to Cherokee legend, the Milky Way was created when a dog stole a bag of cornmeal and spilled some while being chased. The galaxy is thus referred to as “The Way the Dog Ran Away.”

The Milky Way looks like it’s made up of around 2,500 stars when viewed with the naked eye from any point on Earth, but the actual figure is between 100-400 billion stars.

The Milky Way is continually losing stars through supernovae, a process that involves a large explosion at the end of a star’s life cycle, removing almost all of its mass. The galaxy produces about seven stars per year.

As we are inside the Milky Way, any photo of it taken from space is either of another galaxy or an artist’s impression.

The age of the universe is estimated to be 13.7 billion years. The oldest stars in the Milky Way, found in globular clusters, are 13.6 billion years old.

The Milky Way rotates around a central axis, and since the time the dinosaurs became extinct, or about 65 million years ago, the Sun is thought to have traveled about a third of the way around this center.

Kepler-186f, a planet on the outer edge of the Milky Way’s habitable zone, orbiting a dwarf star, was discovered in 2015 and is 4.730 trillion km (2,939 trillion miles) away. Kepler-186f might be able to sustain life.

Two-thirds of the galaxies in the known universe are spirals, and two-thirds of those are barred. The Milky Way ticks both these boxes, making it one of the most common galaxy designs.

The Milky Way has a diameter of about 9.5 x 1017 km. If our solar system were a U.S. quarter, the Sun would be a tiny speck of dust and the Milky Way would be as large as the United States.

According to Chinese Mythology, the Milky Way is known as ‘the silver river’ and was placed by the gods to separate a weaver and a herdsman who loved each other. Our solar system travels around the center of the galaxy at an incredible speed of 827000 kph (514,000 mph) which is fast enough to circle the Earth’s equator in just under three minutes. Despite the vastness of our galaxy, there is still much to explore and discover. Although it may be impossible to travel to the outer edge of the galaxy, we can still appreciate its mesmerizing visuals and unknown facts. It is possible that we may discover another earth-like planet or witness another astronomical event in the future. As Richard Feynman said about quantum mechanics, if you think you understand the Milky Way, you don’t understand the Milky Way.


1. What is the Milky Way?

The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy that contains our Solar System, as well as billions of other stars, planets, and celestial objects. It is estimated to be about 100,000 light-years in diameter and 1,000 light-years thick.

2. How many stars are in the Milky Way?

The Milky Way is estimated to contain between 100-400 billion stars. However, this number is constantly changing as new discoveries are made.

3. How fast does the Milky Way spin?

The Milky Way rotates at a speed of about 168 miles per second (270 kilometers per second) around its center. It takes approximately 225-250 million years to complete one full rotation.

4. Is the Milky Way the only galaxy in the universe?

No, the Milky Way is just one of billions of galaxies in the observable universe. It is estimated that there could be up to 2 trillion galaxies in the universe.

5. How was the Milky Way formed?

The Milky Way was formed about 13.6 billion years ago from the merging of smaller galaxies. It is believed that the Milky Way’s formation was a gradual process that took billions of years to complete.

6. What is the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole?

The Milky Way’s supermassive black hole, known as Sagittarius A*, is located at the center of the galaxy. It has a mass of approximately 4 million times that of the Sun.

7. How many planets are in the Milky Way?

While the exact number is unknown, it is estimated that there could be billions of planets in the Milky Way. So far, astronomers have discovered over 4,000 exoplanets outside of our Solar System.

8. What is the Milky Way’s halo?

The Milky Way’s halo is a spherical region surrounding the galaxy that contains a sparse population of stars. It is believed to be made up of the remnants of smaller galaxies that were absorbed by the Milky Way.

9. How is the Milky Way’s age determined?

The age of the Milky Way is determined by studying the ages of the oldest stars in the galaxy. Based on this method, it is estimated that the Milky Way is about 13.6 billion years old.

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