Read More: National Geographic
When we look up, every star we see is in the Milky Way, the spiral galaxy we call home. The Milky Way holds every alien planet humans have ever spotted, and the billions more that likely exist in the galaxy. On a dark night, the dense plane of the Milky Way winds like a ribbon across the sky. On a really dark night, in areas free from light pollution, that ribbon becomes so intensely spangled with stars that it’s possible to see the dark, dusty clouds of dust and gas deep in space that blot out their light. Those clouds are so prominent that Australia’s Aboriginal people saw them create the shape of an emu. Our galactic home is one of trillions of galaxies in the universe. Astronomers have been ardently studying them for almost a century, ever since Edwin Hubble discovered that neighboring Andromeda was not just another nearby dusty nebula, but a galaxy in its own right. And yet, humans are still trying to unravel the secrets of our galactic home and how it fits in the tapestry of the universe. “I would love to see a movie in time of the assembly of the Milky Way,” says Jay Lockman of the Green Bank Observatory, who presented new observations about our galaxy this week at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Maryland. Here are some of the fun, weird facts and questions we have about the 13.6-billion-year-old space oddity we inhabit.