Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Take a Summer Stroll in the Night-Sky Neighborhood

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Take a Summer Stroll in the Night-Sky Neighborhood

Article excerpt

Thanks to the Hubble telescope, we know the universe contains more than 40 billion galaxies. And for the first time, the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite gives us a single picture of the entire Milky Way, our "little" home in space, and a spot well worth getting to know this summer.

In fact, with the warm weather, it's a great opportunity to stroll around the neighborhood.

If you're in the city or crowded suburbs, take your family and friends for a drive in the country to a place where the night sky does not compete with neon. Bring a blanket, bug spray, and a flashlight with a red light (white light keeps our eyes from adjusting to their innate night vision).

The best time for stargazing is after midnight, with no moonlight or clouds. Dates when the skies will be moonless this summer include: June 6-14; July 6-14; August 4-12.

After your eyes adjust to the dark, take in the quiet grandeur of sparkling infinity. Watch long, and steadily. Bring along a pair of binoculars. Engage with the Milky Way, travel within its infinite vastness, and your imagination will be changed forever. As you look out into space you are looking back in time, thousands and millions of years back.

We live in a medium-sized spiral galaxy that is a relatively flat disk shape with a bulge in its center and spiral arms that radiate from its center like a colossal cosmic pinwheel. It stretches 100,000 light-years from side to side, and 13,000 light-years from top to bottom at its center.

Spiral galaxies have an extended halo of faint, billions-of- years-old stars at their extremities. Their disks are rich in gas and dust, while the galactic bulge or nucleus at the center contains the greatest number of newly formed stars. If the Milky Way were a city, our sun would be in a distant suburb, 27,000 light-years from the galactic center. …

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