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Galactic Inquirer

Our Elusive Milky Way

21 Aug 2013, 11:42 UTC
Our Elusive Milky Way
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

For most of human history, the night sky demanded our attention. The shape-shifting Moon, wandering planets, pointillist stars, and occasional comet enchanted our sensibilities while inspiring diverse tales of origin. The Milky Way, in particular, exerted a powerful presence on our distant ancestors. Rippling across the firmament, this irregular band of ghostly light evoked myriad myths of life and death among the stars. In 1609, Galileo Galilei pointed his telescope heavenward and discovered that the Milky Way is “nothing but a congeries of innumerable stars grouped together in clusters.” Fast forward 400 years to the present day, and we find that the Milky Way has all but disappeared from our collective consciousness. Where did it go?

For 25 years as an astronomy educator, I have informally polled hundreds of students, teachers, and the general public regarding their awareness of the night sky. Invariably, no more than 25 percent have ever seen the Milky Way with their own eyes. For city dwellers, this is completely understandable. Unless properly shielded, the artificial lighting from municipal, commercial, and residential sources will spill into the sky and overwhelm the diffuse band of luminescence that is the hallmark of our home galaxy. ...

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