Ever since high school we have been taught that the Milky-way is a spiral galaxy of diameter 100,000–120,000 light years and contains around 100-400 billion stars.And they also said that our planet is present somewhere near 1/3rd the distance from the diameter.
They mentioned about the mass,age and other scientific attributes of the galaxy calculated using advanced mathematics and approximation science. They also put up a fancy picture of the milky at the corner of your Physics text book in the chapter-“The Universe”.
So I asked mother Google to show me some images of our home Galaxy and this is what she came up with-
Yes,you heard it right! Absolute bullshit.
A number of images pop up when you look for the milkyway and most of them out there are pictures of other galaxies like NGC 1300,NGC 3953 or our closest neighbor,The Andromeda. Humans still haven’t known how our galaxy looks when viewed away from the milkyway and we have apprximately concluded that our galaxy is spiral based on apparent evidences and by observing patterns to make up for a brief overview. An image of the milkyway would look more like this-
The Milky Way was the traditional name for the belt of brightness that we see from Earth. When it was realised what the galaxy was, the name got transferred.What we see is just some of the nearer stars. The Milky Way looks only slightly brighter in the direction of Saggitarius. In fact most of the galaxy lies in that direction, we are on the mid-rim.
The longest distance any man-made object has covered till date are the robotic probes Voyager-1 and Voyager -2. They were launched together in 1977 to take advantage of a favorable alignment of Jupiter, Saturn,Uranus, and Neptune.
Up until now( I mean the second this sentence was written),the Voyagers have travelled 19,572,798,309 km from earth and they are expected to join the interstellar space somewhere during 2016.
Here are the images sent by the probes from the far edge of the earth solar system-
For Voyagers to go out of the Galaxy will take more than thousand,if not millions of years.And for it to send back the information/images it will take another thousand. So,one can confidently conclude that nowhere in the near future can we know how exactly our galaxy looks.Even if we were to do it in the very far future,who knows what would have happened to our planet by then.You can never be sure,that’s the thing with humans and science.
You just have to live with the fact that in the larger scheme of things,you,your life,your relationships and all your problems just don’t matter. The Universe is a grand design and your just a spec of stardust in it. Nothing more,nothing less. Like Carl Sagan famously quoted in his speech-
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space.
Your textbook was wrong,your teacher was wrong. And yet you choose not to think about it as you were in a hurry to jump to the next chapter,to score those dear marks of your’s that make your parents proud. Look at what you’ve missed out on. You’ve missed out on yet another chance to wonder about the mysteries of our Universe.You’ve missed out on yet another chance become an admirer of nature. You’ve missed out on a lot.
A whole lot!