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The Question

(Submitted May 16, 1997)

I am in 5th grade. Do you have any pictures of the Milky Way from above it?

The Answer

There are no pictures of the Milky Way galaxy taken from above. That would require us or a space probe to be able to get far enough away. That hasn't yet been done. The furthest a space probe has gotten from the earth is Pioneer 10, which is now more than 10 billion km from the earth. (For comparison, Pluto is about 6 billion km away). However, Pioneer 10 would have to go 3 billion times farther to get far enough away to take a picture of the entire galaxy.

However, astronomers think they know what the Milky Way galaxy would look like from outside it. They have long thought that it is a spiral galaxy, like the Andromeda Galaxy or the Whirlpool Galaxy. However, recent research indicates it may be a barred spiral, like M91.

You can find a picture and a description of each of these galaxies on these web sites:

Andromeda: http://www.maa.mhn.de/Messier/E/m031.html
Whirlpool: http://www.maa.mhn.de/Messier/E/m051.html M91: http://www.maa.mhn.de/Messier/E/m091.html

Jim Lochner (with help from Gail Rohrbach and Koji Mukai)
for Ask an Astrophysicist

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