August 27, 2002
The above photo of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, was taken using a Pentax ME camera (15 mm lens) with a 15 minute exposure. The Milky Way plays host to approximately 200 billion stars (recent estimates push this number to as high as 400 billion), and its dimentions are impressive even by galactic standards - a diameter of about 100,000 light years. On a clear night, if you can get away from city lights and light pollution from strip malls, the Milky Way should appear as a luminous, milky band, stretching nearly the entire length of the sky. At this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, the constellation of the Northern Cross (also known as Cygnus the Swan) appears to be positioned right in the middle of the Milky Way. Can you pick out the cross on the photo? The constellations of Lyra the Lyre is just to the right of the Milky Way (bottom center of photo) and Aquila the Eagle is just to the left of the creamy strip (lower left of photo). The brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra and Aquila form what stargazers refer to as the "summer triangle."