The Milky Way

I was looking for this mosaic of the Milky Way stitched together from images shot by the Spitzer Space Telescope. And since a good place to look for stuff like that is the Wikipedia, I duly headed there to find the beautiful image below, instead. Beautiful, not just because it is a 3600 panorama, but also because in the foreground is a very fascinating phenomenon — the sailing stones of Death Valley. (click on the image to see it in its full splendor.)

Milky Way over Death Valley

Perhaps I find those things beautiful that cause me to contemplate, but the Milky Way is by far the best sight I have ever seen, and I’ve been to quite a few scenic places! I had seen pictures of it in textbooks and elsewhere in lithographic print, but nothing quite prepared me for the awesomeness of the sight when, one night, about 15 years ago, in a village, while I lay on one of those fold-able cots, the power went off, and there it was! The sight that inspired mythologies and poets. That was perhaps the closest I had ever come to a religious experience, and not once since then did I get to see it again. Blame that on modernity and too much light pollution.

My inspirations aside, if you don’t already know, virtually all the objects you see in the night sky belong in the Milky Way. Our closest neighbor, Andromeda (not counting two smaller satellite galaxies of the Milky Way), is but a tiny patch of light to the naked eye. Doesn’t that cause you to contemplate the scale of things in the Universe? And if you need an aid doing that, head here. But before that, let me leave you with this time lapse of the galactic center rising:

Downloads: (please rely on these links only if the embedded links don’t work)

Scale of the Universe (flash object)

5 Responses to “The Milky Way”

  1. That video is quite interesting. Wonder what time in the early hours will we really get to see that milkway (the shot at around 0.30 seconds in the video).

    I was one time lucky to have a near perfect clear night sky around 11pm while traveling on the mountains in Wyoming, just can’t forget the view of the stary sky ! And with no artificial light in sight whatsoever !

  2. Depends on the time of the year, actually. This time of the year, the galactic center should rise at around 3 am or so in the morning, and if you wait a couple more months, it will rise at around 11 pm. To spot it, look towards the south. It rises in the South East and sets in the South West direction. For you, in the Bay Area, it is going to be very low on the horizon. Even if the terrain permits, you wouldn’t be able to make it out anyway because of the light pollution.

    The center itself is in the general direction of Antares (you probably know it is Jesta nakshatram)–that’s the brightest star in the immediate vicinity and the most easiest to spot. If you need helping spotting that, look up any good planisphere on the ‘net. Here’s one: http://www.skyviewcafe.com/ . Or, better yet and especially if you find reading the planisphere tedious, download a good sky view software like Stellarium.

    You can definitely make out the center given moderately good skies, but it appears more as a smudge of light, and without the dust lanes visible, it just makes for a very bland sight. Here is an example: http://www.astropix.com/HTML/H_OTHER/SATPOL1.HTM

    You would be very lucky to find conditions like in the 2nd picture anywhere near where you live, and even that makes for a poor sight!

    Finally, here’s a light pollution chart for the US: http://www.jshine.net/astronomy/dark_sky/

    By the way, were you around when we got that telescope at MSU?

  3. The iphone app ‘Planets’ does have a very good ‘Sky 3D’ view and we could clearly see the galactic center and it’s approximate location at any time we access the app. But thanks for the info !

  4. No Phani .. I wasn’t there when MSU got that telescope … However, there is one observatory (Mt. Hamilton) nearby, like 8 miles from my home on the top of the hill. I went there once on a sunday. Need to find out what times in the evening/night can the general public get to see thru the telescope. Boy, the road to the observatory is little treacherous though !

  5. Yes, of course, the Lick Observatory! but they don’t let you see through the ‘scope. In fact, nobody ever looks through the ‘scope–CCD cameras capture all the data.

    About the scope@MSU, I meant the scope Mantha bought for me. We had one at the apartment!

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