(Submitted February 05, 1997)
How did the Milky Way gets its name ?
On a clear night, out in the country away from the city lights, you
will see a bright, but diffuse, band through the sky. It will make a
complete arc overhead (actually it appears as a great circle on the sky
with the earth as the center).
Next time you are out in the country, look at this band of light and
think about how it looks. This was named by the Greeks as: "Galaxies
Kuklos" or The Milky Circle. The Romans changed the name to "Via
Lactea" or The Milky Road or as we now call it "The Milky Way."
However, it was not until the the middle of the 18th century that
people first came up with the idea that The Milky Way was actually a
galaxy of stars. And it was not until the 19th and 20th centuries that
scientists understood that The Milky Way is just one of many such
galaxies in the universe.
If you want a good book to read on the history of astronomy, try
"Coming of Age in the Milky Way" by Timothy Ferris, c1988, Anchor Books,
Thank you for being interested.
(for the Ask an Astrophysicist Team)
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