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Pointing the Way

A Lone Pine Points to the Creamy Band of the Milky Way in the Southern Sky above the High Sierras. Yosemite National Park, California.

Although we tend to think of that creamy band seen in the photo (right) as the Milky Way, the enormous galaxy that we call home actually contains all the individual stars you see in that photo. And many, many more. How many more? Conservative estimates suggest that the Milky Way contains between 200 to 400 billion stars, but other estimates put the number closer to a trillion. In addition to the individual stars, the Milky Way also contains approximately 30 constellations, such as Ursa Major, the constellation that includes the Big Dipper asterism featured in last week’s post.

And let’s not forget planets. In addition to our relatively tiny 8-planet solar system (9 if you’ve a sentimental attachment to Pluto), the Milky Way is home to as many as 100 billion other planets. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time even imagining 100 billion planets.

Our solar system, by the way, is located about 27,000 light years from the Milky Way’s Galactic Center, far enough away to require a telescope to see the individual stars in the light band that arcs above Yosemite Valley in this week’s featured photo.

If you’d like to learn more about the Milky Way, visit the Wikipedia page that provided much of the information discussed above.

By the way, before I created the vertical image seen in this post, I captured the horizontal image, above, (that includes a couple of streaking meteors) from a different location in Yosemite’s high countray. You can see other images captured on that trip on our website. Enjoy