There is probably nothing more mysterious and wonderful-looking in the sky than the Milky Way, stretching like a band of jewels from one end of the sky to the other.
In ancient times, when people gazed at this spectacle, they were filled with the wonder and beauty of it just as we are. But since they didn’t really know what it was, they made up all sorts of strange and beautiful explanations of the Milky Way.
For example, in early Christian times, people thought it was a pathway for the angels, so they could go up to heaven on it. Or they imagined it was an opening in the heavens so that we here on earth could have a glimpse of the glory that existed beyond.
Knowing the facts about the Milky Way, as we do today, doesn’t remove any of the wonders of it. The facts are just as amazing as any made-up idea! Our galaxy is shaped roughly like a watch, round and flat.
If we could get above it and look down on it, it would look like an immense watch. But we are inside the galaxy, and when we look up we are looking towards the edge from inside the watch.
So we see that edge curving around us. And since there are millions of stars in it, we see it as the Milky Way. Did you know that there are at least 3.000.000.000 stars in the galaxy?
And here is an idea of its size. It takes eight minutes for light from the sun to reach the earth. For light from the center of the galaxy to reach the sun, it takes about 27.000 years!
The galaxy rotates about its center like a wheel. From our position in it, it takes about 200.000.000 years just to make one revolution!
Read: What Is a Constellation?