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Utah Skies: Viewing The Milky Way This Summer

Bruce Horrocks

With the long days and warm nights, summer is a great time to get out and enjoy the stars and see our own Milky Way Galaxy. Our solar system is just one of the hundreds of billions in our galaxy and is located about halfway between the center and the edge of the Milky Way. 

That puts us just a mere 25,000 light-years from the center with the total length of our galaxy assumed to be around 100,000 light-years in diameter. Our sun and its planets rotate around the center of the galaxy about once every 220 million years.

The name of our galaxy is old and comes from Greek mythology. It is an old myth that the infant Hercules while nursing the goddess Hera spilled milk across the heavens, and thus created the Milky Way. If you stay up for a few hours after sunset you will see the bright core and arms of the Milky way rise up in the south-eastern skies. The best times for viewing are from July to September, and if possible, on a clear moonless night. Unfortunately, approximately 80% of North Americans are now unable to now see this beautiful sight due to the light pollution found in larger cities. 

In the core of the Milky Way, we are also able to view several large nebulae. There is Pelican Nebula, the North America Nebula, and probably most recognized is the Eagle Nebula with contains the iconic Hubble photo of the Pillars of Creation. While these nebulae are dim and will require a telescope to view, they are quite large in size. The North America Nebula itself covers an area of space equivalent to 12 full moons or more.