FACTS ABOUT THE MILKY WAY GALAXY
Our sun is actually a star. It is a very average size star compared to some stars that are hundreds of times larger and tens of times hotter. It is one of approximately 10,000,000,000 stars in an arrangement we call the Milky Way Galaxy. If you have ever been out at night in a place that has absolutely no lights shining, then you might have seen the Galaxy as a hazy swath going right across the sky. This ‘milky’ swath is actually billions and billions o f individual stars very, very far away all blending their light together. Many of these stars may also have small planets revolving around them like the Earth. Unfortunately the distance from any two stars is so incredibly far that even if we could travel on a beam of light (the fastest speed that anything can move), it would still take years and years.
The Milky Way Galaxy is a very large group of stars. To get an idea of even the size of our ‘neighborhood’ of the Galaxy, we would need to shrink our Sun and the closest 3 stars to the size of a tennis ball, and then drop them in an area the size of North America! Obviously at this scale the rest of the Galaxy would still be incredibly large. If we could reduce the
to the size of North America, then our entire Solar System out to the orbit of Pluto would fit on a dinner plate and the Sun would be smaller than a period on this page.
All stars are different from each other in some way. There are stars that are still being created and aren’t able to give off their own heat and light yet. Some stars are just tiny remnants and embers of what they used to be after going through a huge fiery destructive phase that, despite their enormous distance, rivaled our own Moon at night in it’s brightness. There are stars so large that if they were in our solar system they would take up all the space out to the orbit of Mars! Stars even come in a variety of colors and names like red giant and white dwarf. Some stars are combined in pairs and triplets that are revolving around each other.
Because of the incredible size of the Galaxy we have to measure it in something besides miles because the number of miles is so large that we can’t even fit it on this page. Scientists have come up with the measurement of a light year. If you can think of the light from the Sun moving to reach us each day on a very fast beam, then you can understand a light year. Light from the sun takes about 8 1/2 minutes to reach us and over 5 hours to get to Pluto.That same beam of light would take over three years to get to the closest star, Alpha Centauri at 20,000,000,000,000 miles away. The entire Galaxy is about 100,000 lights years across!