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8 images of galaxies far, far away

By: Katherine Butler on March 11, 2012, 7:13 p.m.
Milky Way

Photo: NASA

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Our own Milky Way

If you look up on some dark, clear night, you might notice a splash of hazy, white light arching across the sky. This is our Milky Way galaxy, where our own solar system rides on one of its spiral arms. Every star we see in the sky is part of the Milky Way, but a brighter center exists some 26,000 light-years away. The Milky Way is about 100,000 light-years in diameter and contains 200 to 400 billion stars. (A light-year is the distance light can travel in one year, which is 9,500,000,000,000 kilometers.) We revolve around the center of the Milky Way, where a black hole is believed to exist. It takes us 250 million years to follow our sun in one full rotation. (As we exist inside the Milky Way, we do not have any means of taking a picture of our home galaxy from above or below it. Pictured here is an artist’s concept of what it might look like.)


And yet, we are far from alone in the universe. Through NASA’s various programs, such as the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, we are now getting to know our galactic neighbors as never before.  (Text: Katherine Butler)