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Oh, Right. WE LIVE INSIDE A GALAXY.
Our Sun and its retinue of planets—including the one we live on—is located in the disk of the Milky Way galaxy, a preposterously huge and sprawling conglomeration of stars, gas, dust, invisible dark matter … and us.
Located roughly halfway out from the center, we see this disk from the inside, so it’s smeared out across the sky like a thick line. When we look to the center, we see a region choked with dust, jammed with stars, and punctuated by the reddish glow of hydrogen clouds where stars are being born.
It’s hard to grasp the immensity of which we are a part, but astrophotographer and friend of the BA Blog Rogelio Bernal Andreo has being trying mightily to help us. He spent five months photographing and assembling a huge mosaic that encompasses a staggering 130 hours of exposure time, taken from western Fresno County in California. The original mosaic is 40,000 pixels tall! That’s not possible to show you here unless your monitor is several meters wide … but I can give you the next best thing. He created a virtual tour of the image using an 8,000 pixel version:
I had to shrink it to fit the blog, so please go to the original to play around with it. It feels a little bit like sitting in the astrometrics lab of the Enterprise. Wow.
If you do want to see the whole scene at once, I shrank it to fit the blog as well. Mind you, the bigger shot is far more jaw-dropping:
Whoa. If you want to learn more, I’ve written about other mosaics of the galactic center by Robert Gendler, Stéphane Guisard, and an unusual one by astronomers in Germany. And if you want details—and you do—you can always watch my Crash Course Astronomy episode about the Milky Way, too.
As you move around in your daily life, working and living and doing whatever it is you do, I fervently hope this image gives you a glimmer of what always lurks in my own brain: The fact that we live in a massive structure that is ancient and dynamic, vast and beautiful. I promise you, your mind will be the better for it.