Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Milky Way

The Milky Way, or simply the Galaxy, is the galaxy in which the Solar System is located. It is a barred spiral galaxy that is part of the Local Group of galaxies. It is one of billions of galaxies in the observable universe.
Its name is a translation of the Latin Via Lactea, in turn translated from the Greek Γαλαξίας (Galaxias), referring to the pale band of light formed by the galactic plane as seen from Earth (see etymology of galaxy). Some sources hold that, strictly speaking, the term Milky Way should refer exclusively to the band of light that the galaxy forms in the night sky, while the galaxy should receive the full name Milky Way Galaxy, or alternatively the Galaxy. However, it is unclear how widespread this convention is, and the term Milky Way is routinely used in either context.
Appearance from Earth
The Milky Way Galaxy, as viewed from Earth, itself situated on a spur off one of the spiral arms of the galaxy (see Sun's location and neighborhood), appears as a hazy band of white light in the night sky arching across the entire celestial sphere and originating from stars and other material that lie within the galactic plane. The plane of the Milky Way is inclined by about 60° to the ecliptic (the plane of the Earth's orbit), with the North Galactic Pole situated at right ascension 12h 49m, declination +27.4° (B1950) near beta Comae Berenices. The South Galactic Pole is near alpha Sculptoris.
The center of the galaxy is in the direction of Sagittarius, and the Milky Way then "passes" (going westward) through Scorpius, Ara, Norma, Triangulum Australe, Circinus, Centaurus, Musca, Crux, Carina, Vela, Puppis, Canis Major, Monoceros, Orion & Gemini, Taurus, Auriga, Perseus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cepheus & Lacerta, Cygnus, Vulpecula, Sagitta, Aquila, Ophiuchus, Scutum, and back to Sagittarius.
The Milky Way looks brightest in the direction of the constellation of Sagittarius, toward the galactic center. Relative to the celestial equator, it passes as far north as the constellation of Cassiopeia and as far south as the constellation of Crux, indicating the high inclination of Earth's equatorial plane and the plane of the ecliptic relative to the galactic plane. The fact that the Milky Way divides the night sky into two roughly equal hemispheres indicates that the Solar System lies close to the galactic plane. The Milky Way has a relatively low surface brightness, making it difficult to see from any urban or suburban location suffering from light pollution.

The stellar disk of the Milky Way Galaxy is approximately 100,000 light-years (9.5×1017 km) in diameter, and is considered to be, on average, about 1,000 ly (9.5×1015 km) thick. It is estimated to contain at least 200 billion stars and possibly up to 400 billion stars, the exact figure depending on the number of very low-mass stars, which is highly uncertain. Extending beyond the stellar disk is a much thicker disk of gas. Recent observations indicate that the gaseous disk of the Milky Way has a thickness of around 12,000 ly (1.1×1017 km)—twice the previously accepted value. As a guide to the relative physical scale of the Milky Way, if it were reduced to 10m in diameter, the Solar System, including the Oort cloud, would be no more than 0.1mm in width (0.001%).
The Galactic Halo extends outward, but is limited in size by the orbits of two Milky Way satellites, the Large and the Small Magellanic Clouds, whose perigalacticon is at ~180,000 ly (1.7×1018 km). At this distance or beyond, the orbits of most halo objects would be disrupted by the Magellanic Clouds, and the objects would likely be ejected from the vicinity of the Milky Way.
Recent measurements by the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) have revealed that the Milky Way is much heavier than some previously thought. The mass of our home galaxy is now considered to be roughly similar to that of our largest local neighbour, the Andromeda Galaxy. By using the VLBA to measure the apparent shift of far-flung star-forming regions when the Earth is on opposite sides of the Sun, the researchers were able to measure the distance to those regions using fewer assumptions than prior efforts. The newer and more accurate estimate of the galaxy's rotational speed (and in turn the amount of dark matter contained by the galaxy) puts the figure at about 254 km/s, significantly higher than the widely accepted value of 220 km/s. This in turn implies that the Milky Way has a total mass equivalent to around 3 trillion Suns, about 50% more massive than some previously thought.

As Aristotle (384-322 BC) informs us in Meteorologica (DK 59 A80), the Greek philosophers Anaxagoras (ca. 500–428 BC) and Democritus (450–370 BC) proposed that the Milky Way might consist of distant stars. However, Aristotle himself believed the Milky Way to be caused by "the ignition of the fiery exhalation of some stars which were large, numerous and close together" and that the "ignition takes place in the upper part of the atmosphere, in the region of the world which is continuous with the heavenly motions. The Arabian astronomer, Alhazen (965-1037 AD), refuted this by making the first attempt at observing and measuring the Milky Way's parallax, and he thus "determined that because the Milky Way had no parallax, it was very remote from the earth and did not belong to the atmosphere."
The Persian astronomer, Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī (973-1048), proposed the Milky Way galaxy to be a collection of countless nebulous stars. Avempace (d. 1138) proposed the Milky Way to be made up of many stars but appears to be a continuous image due to the effect of refraction in the Earth's atmosphere. Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya (1292-1350) proposed the Milky Way galaxy to be "a myriad of tiny stars packed together in the sphere of the fixed stars" and that that these stars are larger than planets.
Actual proof of the Milky Way consisting of many stars came in 1610 when Galileo Galilei used a telescope to study the Milky Way and discovered that it was composed of a huge number of faint stars. In a treatise in 1755, Immanuel Kant, drawing on earlier work by Thomas Wright, speculated (correctly) that the Milky Way might be a rotating body of a huge number of stars, held together by gravitational forces akin to the Solar System but on much larger scales. The resulting disk of stars would be seen as a band on the sky from our perspective inside the disk. Kant also conjectured that some of the nebulae visible in the night sky might be separate "galaxies" themselves, similar to our own.
The first attempt to describe the shape of the Milky Way and the position of the Sun within it was carried out by William Herschel in 1785 by carefully counting the number of stars in different regions of the visible sky. He produced a diagram of the shape of the Galaxy with the Solar System close to the center.
In 1845, Lord Rosse constructed a new telescope and was able to distinguish between elliptical and spiral-shaped nebulae. He also managed to make out individual point sources in some of these nebulae, lending credence to Kant's earlier conjecture.
In 1917, Heber Curtis had observed the nova S Andromedae within the "Great Andromeda Nebula" (Messier object M31). Searching the photographic record, he found 11 more novae. Curtis noticed that these novae were, on average, 10 magnitudes fainter than those that occurred within our galaxy. As a result he was able to come up with a distance estimate of 150,000 parsecs. He became a proponent of the "island universes" hypothesis, which held that the spiral nebulae were actually independent galaxies. In 1920 the Great Debate took place between Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, concerning the nature of the Milky Way, spiral nebulae, and the dimensions of the universe. To support his claim that the Great Andromeda Nebula was an external galaxy, Curtis noted the appearance of dark lanes resembling the dust clouds in the Milky Way, as well as the significant Doppler shift.
The matter was conclusively settled by Edwin Hubble in the early 1920s using a new telescope. He was able to resolve the outer parts of some spiral nebulae as collections of individual stars and identified some Cepheid variables, thus allowing him to estimate the distance to the nebulae: they were far too distant to be part of the Milky Way. In 1936, Hubble produced a classification system for galaxies that is used to this day, the Hubble sequence.
Google SEO sponsored by Red Dragon Electric Cigarette Products