What you should know about the Milky Way
The Milky Way Galaxy, commonly referred to as just the Milky Way, or sometimes simply as the Galaxy,[a] is the home galaxy of the Solar System, and of Earth. It is agreed that the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, with observations suggesting that it is a barred spiral galaxy.
It contains 200-400 billion stars and is estimated to have at least 50 billion planets, 500 million of which could be located in the habitable zone of their parent star. New data suggests there may be up to twice as many free-floating planets in the Milky Way as there are stars. The Milky Way is part of the Local Group of galaxies and is one of around 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe.
The Solar System is located in the Milky Way galaxy around two thirds of the way out from the center, on the inner edge of the Orion–Cygnus Arm. The Sun orbits around the center of the galaxy in a galactic year—once every 225-250 million Earth years.
The “Milky Way” 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 stars in the galactic plane as seen from Earth.
All the stars that the eye can distinguish in the night sky are part of the Milky Way galaxy, but aside from these relatively nearby stars, the galaxy appears as a hazy band of white light arching around the entire celestial sphere. The light originates from stars and other material that lie within the galactic plane. Dark regions within the band, such as the Great Rift and the Coalsack, correspond to areas where light from distant stars is blocked by dark nebulae.
The Milky Way has a relatively low surface brightness due to the interstellar medium that fills the galactic disk, which prevents us from seeing the bright galactic center. It is thus difficult to see from any urban or suburban location suffering from light pollution. A total integrated magnitude of the whole Milky Way stretching across the night sky has been estimated at −5.0.
The center of the galaxy lies in the direction of Sagittarius, and it is here that the Milky Way looks brightest. From Sagittarius, the hazy band of white light appears to pass westward through the constellations of Scorpius, Ara, Norma, Triangulum Australe, Circinus, Centaurus, Musca, Crux, Carina, Vela, Puppis, Canis Major, Monoceros, Orion and Gemini, Taurus, Auriga, Perseus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cepheus and Lacerta, Cygnus, Vulpecula, Sagitta, Aquila, Ophiuchus, Scutum, and back to Sagittarius. The fact that the band divides the night sky into two roughly equal hemispheres indicates that the Solar System lies close to the galactic plane.
The galactic plane is inclined by about 60 degrees to the ecliptic (the plane of the Earth’s orbit). 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 north galactic pole is situated at right ascension 12h 49m, declination +27.4° (B1950) near beta Comae Berenices, and the south galactic pole is near alpha Sculptoris.