The Milky Way is the galaxy in which our solar system is located. From Earth it can be recognized as a bright band in the starry sky. It contains planets, gas clouds and stars. According to current estimates, it consists of about 100 to 300 billion stars, including all 6,000 stars, which can be detected by the naked eye. The age of the Milky Way system is estimated at 13.6 billion years and the diameter at 170,000 - 200,000 light-years.
The prominent, but weakly recognizable streak in the night sky consists of stars that can not be detected individually with the eye. That's why they seem to blur into one another and form a milky mass. In the northern hemisphere you look to the edge of the Milky Way, in the southern hemisphere into the bright center.
The Shape and Construction
Due to systematic star counting in 1785, the British astronomer Wilhelm Herschel already recognized the disc shape of the Milky Way. In a study of globular clusters in 1919, the American astronomer Harlow Shapley found that the sun is at the edge of the galaxy and not in the center as previously assumed. He also gave a first estimate of the size of the Milky Way. Until the 1990s, it has been assumed that the Milky Way was an even spiral galaxy, similar to the Andromeda Nebula. According to the latest findings, however, it is a rather oblong shape.
The Greek astronomers called the Milky Way "galaxias", from which also the today's term of the galaxy was derived. The name includes "gala", which means "milk". In ancient times, the streak could be seen much more clearly in the sky, it was almost white.
According to Greek mythology, the Milky Way is the milk of Hera. Zeus wanted to give divine powers to his illegitimate son Hercules and put him to her chest during her afternoon nap. When Hera woke up and pushed away her hated foster son, her milk was spread all over the sky.
It is believed that in a few million years, the Milky Way and the neighboring galaxy Andromeda collide. The celestial bodies would bring each other out of balance in the event of a collision. The Milky Way is not larger, but bulkier than our neighboring galaxy, and it also spins faster, so it would probably take over in the constellation of a new galaxy.