THE MILKY WAY
We live in a disk-shaped Galaxy of some 200 billion stars
that we see around us as the broad white band of the Milky Way. Since we are halfway or more
out toward the Galaxy's ill-defined edge, the Milky Way varies
considerably in brightness from the glorious broad center in Sagittarius to the
far dimmer, dusty Anticenter 180 degrees
away in Taurus-Auriga.
The Milky Way is inclined to the celestial equator by 63 degrees,
crossing it in Monoceros and Aquila-Serpens-
Ophiuchus. By remarkable coincidence, the Winter and Summer
Sagittariius and Gemini are
respectively nearly in the same directions as are the Galactic
Center and Aniticenter. (Because of the 26,000-year precession of
the Earth's axis, around 1940 the Summer Solstice crossed over the
modern border with Taurus, where it now technically resides. The
Solstice, however, is closer to the classical figure of Gemini
than it is to Taurus, so out of tradition and a desire for
symmetry, it's usually said still to be in Gemini.)
Enjoy the view, which is meant to match that more or less
seen with the naked eye. Follow along with the Constellation Maps.
- Begin with the most northerly constellation of the
Milky Way (as defined by the Galaxy's equator), Cassiopeia, where the starry stream shines brightly
- End with the most southerly, the Milky Way streaming
gloriously through Crux, the Southern
Cross (Map 6).
- From Cassiopeia, the Milky Way flows weakly to the west
through southern Cepheus, where much
of it hidden behind dark clouds.
- To the south of Cepheus, it also passes through the modern
- The Milky Way then massively brightens as it plunges south
- To the west of Cygnus, it also passes through part of Lyra,
- where it is better seen in an expanded
- After dividing in Cygnus at the Great Rift, the eastern branch
of the Milky Way passes beautifully through Aquila, where it crosses the celestial equator.
- A wide-angle view of the setting
Summer Triangle shows a broader, more dramatic picture of the
Milky Way through Cygnus and Aquila.
- A similar wide-angle view shows the Milky Way within the rising Summer Triangle.
- The dimmer western branch is here barely visible in Serpens and Ophiuchus.
- South of Aquila, the Milky Way brightens into the striking
star clouds of Scutum.
- See it again through Scutum and
- The Milky Way brightens dramatically from Scutum to northern Sagittarius, where it is filled
with bright, reddish nebulae.
- At last, the Milky Way greatly broadens as it enters Sagittarius, its dark clouds hiding the
Galaxy's actual center.
- Which is seen in close-up, along
with the vast rift of dusty clouds and nearly a dozen Messier
- The western side is glorious through central and southern Scorpius.
- See it in a broader view in Scutum,
Sagittarius, and Scorpius that shows the magnificent dusty
- See it again in another wide view from southern Aquila through eastern Lupus also features
the great rift of dust.
- To the south of Sagittarius, the Milky Way goes through Corona Australis.
- The main portion then plunges south of Scorpius and into Ara;
- While to the west of Ara, it goes through Norma (and its colorful clouds).
- In the deep south, find it glorious in Triangulum Australe and Circinus.
- After which it passes through the southern centerpiece in southern Centaurus and Crux (the Southern
Cross), and then climbs back north, the circle closed.
Copyright © James B. Kaler. All rights reserved. Unless
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