Way to Go Milky Way!

If you’ve never seen the Milky Way stretching from horizon to horizon my advise is make the effort. I still get goosebumps when can stay awake long enough in a place where it is visible. That cloudy band surfeit with stars is hypnotic. To imagine the shear size of it; a galaxy over 100,00 light years across - almost 587 quadrillion miles! Numbers and distances too big to comprehend and dwarfed only by the even greater distances between the great galaxies themselves. Light itself that started at the farthest corner of the spiral when modern man was in its infancy just now reaching our eyes. It boggles my monkey brain. This week was something special; I learned something new about the Milky Way, which lead me to learn something odd and rather silly about myself.

I learned this week that the previous estimates of the size of the Milky Way were way too small! Armed with actual measurements in place of old estimates the mass and size of the Milky Way is roughly the same as the Andromeda galaxy. An increase of 15-20% in size. WOOHOO! Our previous position had been that of the second largest galaxy within the local group a member of the Virgo Supercluster; one of millions of similar groupings - not exactly unique. But now we are at least as big as Andromeda - none of our neighbors has bragging rights over us.I found that I was very pleased by that revelation. Probably far more thrilled than was practical considering the lack of implications.

I learned that I finally had to admit that I had galactic size issues for some time. I’ve never liked living in number two. The cosmos is apathetic enough to the egos of Man without having that little visible smudge in the constellation of Andromeda there to rub our noses in. The more I thought about it the odder it seemed. Why should it matter that the Milky way is as big as Andromeda? For some really strange reason it did to me. I guess I’ve always had a size issue with ours vs Andromeda. It doesn’t help that the name Andromeda sounds a lot more impressive either (though we can always dis it my merely referring to it as M31 - take that!). Talk about massively irrelevant jingoism. There is no conceivable practical importance to me, you or our most distant descendants, or the earth for that matter. The difference between living in a 100,000 light year across galaxy vs a 120,000 or 130,000 light year one is hard to appreciate here other than my slightly springier step from knowing we live in a really big one (Yeah I know the big ellipticals and globular clusters are bigger but they are all old and stodgy accretions not the brash swirls of an adolescent star formation such as ours ). Not some average joe galaxy but a really big one. UHUHUH! Despite the complete irrelevance of the fact that our galaxy once thought to be huge beyond my comprehension and any relevance to human existence is huger still, I am a happy camper. It makes no sense at all and I could care less. When we finally tangle with Andromeda in 2 or 3 billion years we’ll kick its ass! Then we'll start on these guys next...


Michael Lockridge said...

My early childhood years were lived in the Los Angeles basin. One day my father took me camping on Big Bear mountain. I saw the Milky Way for the first time. It was magnificent, defining the real meaning of "awsome."

In those days the Universe was smaller, and static. Hubble's strange view of things had not filtered down to the level of elementary education at that time.

It has gotten much larger in the forty plus years since. Always awsome to this small being.


Anonymous said...

A man not concerned with size?

Forget it's actual significance Pliny, in concept the Milky Way just got a dose of goatweed! I'd strut but my galaxy makes me walk funny.

Love those stars by the way, that first picture is just super gorgeous. Thanks for posting it.

Stacy said...


Asylum Seeker said...


Despite also not supporting geographic egotism (i.e. "nationalism" based on anything from the part of a town you live in to, well, what part of the universe I suppose) I still managed to give the same reflexive response. As much as you don't really care when it comes to it, it's always nice to feel that, in some way, the place you've found yourself in has some importance. Doesn't means it is the best, that you need to wave the Milky Way Flag at every opportunity, or brutally harass the Andromeda dwellers for the inferiority of their galaxy. Sure, we can tease them and their puny galaxy, but if we can just call it a day after that, I think we've bettered ourselves for it.

Anonymous said...

A show of posts for those who support galactic supremacy.

Shall we burn spirals in the yards of those who believe erroneously in galactic equality?

Sad isn't it, how much beauty we miss through self-importance. It reminds me of one time I actually had a transcendent and utterly human experience in church.

I was sitting in my homey and somewhat musty smelling sanctuary nodding politely at other white faces. Then we started in on the 'stand up pray, sit down listen, stand up sing, sit down listen' routine.

Some minutes later I felt a cool breeze on the back of my neck. It was while we were standing, getting ready to sing out of key, to a hymn from a different time and culture where rigidity was lauded and worshipped more than Jesus.

But then I heard a choir of voices behind me from a congregation in Brooklyn who were visiting but arrived late.

I looked behind me and saw smiles, bright eyes and genuine joy. Who'd a thunk it, in a church no less.

I had gone that day to learn more TRUTH, and I ended up with truth: the exact same feeling and understanding I got when I looked at those pictures Pliny.

Maybe part of us longs for that singularity and strength from achievement of new knowledge, or reinforcement of old beliefs. But then it gets humbled by wonder no?

Beautiful wonder, so inclusive and peaceful.

The more stars the better, whether stellar stars or simply human ones.

Anonymous said...

'stellar stars' is of course redundant but I thought it helped, considering my ambiguous use of 'star.'

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

It is interesting isn't it our natural responses to idiotic things. I posted this for two reasons - the Milky Way in the night sky is amazing and humbling, and how tribalism seeps into even those most grand of the universe's constructs.

Harvey said...

Although I am not a "believer" in the traditional sense, there are a few experiences in life that tend to keep me at least a little uncertain about my lack of belief. This is one of them. I can at least understand man's need for something to thank or worship while standing in awe of Nature or Creation, whichever may have come first.

GearHedEd said...

Here's a couple of thoughts.

I can see the Milky Way on any clear night where I live, about 10 miles outside a town of ~ 10,000.

I often also see the Aurora Borealis from my front porch (my house is roughly at lat. 44d 13m 47.2s North).

Obama's been in the White House for six months now. When are you ditching the tinfoil helmet?

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

The Aurora is another of those amazing things that as Harvey said, make you understand how someone could imagine spirits and metaphysics. The thing that impressed me the most was the total absence of sound associated with all those lights - very eerie.

The foil hat is now gone - only because I am living in a EMP shielded house ;)

mac said...


I thought you were referring to the candy bar. In which case, I prefer Snickers....

Seriously, great post :-)