When thinking about imaging galaxies it is easy to over look our own galaxy, the Milky Way. Most of the nebulae & star clusters that we image, are part of the Milky Way. Last night offered a brief respite in the summer clouds, which allowed me to take a quick widefield image of our galaxy. Naturally, being within one arm of the galaxy we cannot image the full beauty of its spiral structure; instead what we see is an awe inspiring myriad of stars, banded with dust and peppered by nebulae. This is a sight that all should stand and enjoy, a simple pair of binoculars or a spotting scope will help bring the billions of stars a little closer.
Here’s my image from last night, it is centred on Cygnus and shows, amongst others; the N. American, Pelican & Elephant Trunk nebulae:
Canon 300D modified
click image for a larger view …
The Milky Way is thought to be a barred spiral galaxy (SBbc), containing over 200 billion stars of which our sun is a fairly average individual. The galaxy is 100,000 light years in diameter (1 light year equals 5,878,499,812,499 miles!). To put this in perspective the distance across our solar system from Earth to Pluto is about 0.08 light years; the furthest travelled man made probes are the Voyager spacecraft, they are currently crossing the boundaries between our solar system & interstellar space. When observing from Earth our galactic centre is in the direction of Sagittarius; a clear dark rural sky is best for viewing our galaxy. The galaxy is over 10 billion years old and most likely contains a super massive black hole at its centre. Our solar system is located on the inner edge of the Orion arm of our galaxy.
To view a map of the Milky Way & our position click here.
If you have Worldwide Telescope, click here for a view similar to part of my image.