The Milky Way bridges from here to eternity

By Phil Plait | April 6, 2011 7:00 am

The European Southern Observatory’s monster 8-meter Very Large Telescope observatory is silhouetted against the galaxy itself — and beyond — in this stunning vista of the high Atacama desert of Chile:

[Click to southernhemispherenate.]

What a breathtaking panorama! It’s dominated by the Milky Way Galaxy, hanging low near the horizon. We live inside the disk of our galaxy, so we see it from the inside out. It makes a thick line across the sky, the central hub bulging out in the middle. Dust chokes the interstellar view, creating dark lanes that block the light from stars behind them.

On the left you can see the two companion dwarf galaxies to our own: the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. They apparently hang side-by-side in the sky, but are separated by over 40,000 light years… and are removed from us by distances of 160,000 and 200,000 light years, respectively.

And on the right is our eye on the sky, Unit Telescope 1 of the VLT — and that’s only one of four of the giant 8 meter telescopes in operation. I like the imagery here: the telescope at one end, distant galaxies on the other, and bridging them like a cosmic rainbow is our home galaxy itself.

You may make your own metaphor here, but the one I choose is obvious. You might even say this post is entitled to it.

[Edited to add: After writing this, but before posting it, I found that APOD had a very similar picture to this one. Funny coincidence!]

Image credit: ESO/Y. Beletsky

Related posts:

The dust of Magellan
Through the looking gas
The terrible beauty of chaotic starbirth
AMAZING wide-angle time lapse night sky video

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

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