5 amazing things you probably didn't know about the Milky Way

February 20, 2015, 2:55 p.m.

To most of us, the Milky Way seems like a cool belt of stars in the sky that makes a particularly pretty design when it's dark enough to see it. But there is so, so much more to the story.

1. When we look up at the Milky Way, we're only seeing about 0.0000025 percent of the stars in the galaxy. That's not just because the human eye is fairly weak. Most of the stars in the Milky Way are obscured by gas and dust. But even if we could see all the stars, only about 10 percent of the galaxy is visible; about 90 percent of it is made up of dark matter, which is invisible to us.

2. Just how many stars does the Milky Way have, anyway? According to Universe Today, "The Milky Way has between 100-400 billion stars... This number is not fixed, however, because the Milky Way is constantly losing stars through supernovae, and producing new ones all the time (about seven per year)."

3. The Milky Way is made up of other galaxies and is continually adding more galaxies to its collection. It is currently in the process of roping in stars from the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy.

4. There is a black hole at the center of the Milky Way called Sagittarius A*. This black hole has a diameter of about 14 million miles, and the mass creating the disk around it is thought to weigh the equivalent of more than 4 million of our suns.

5. We don't actually have any photos of the whole Milky Way. Because Earth sits within it, we'd have to get out of it to take an accurate photo. That would mean traveling millions of light-years to get at a decent vantage point for a photo of the entire Milky Way. Still, the photos we have captured from our interior view are quite spectacular.

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.