by Staff Writers
Bonn, Germany (SPX) Dec 15, 2009
Earth's home galaxy, the Milky Way, consists of more than 100 billion stars and its spiral arms extend across 100,000 light-years. As if these were not already virtually inconceivable numbers for humans, the Milky Way is only one galaxy among probably billions of galaxies of various sizes and shapes that can be seen in the visible Universe using modern telescopes.
Galaxies are not distributed evenly throughout space. They appear in groups, galaxy clusters and superclusters. The Milky Way system is surrounded by several dwarf galaxies, of which the Large and the Small Magellanic Clouds are the most well known. Both are visible in the southern sky with the naked eye.
The Andromeda Nebula, despite being around 2.5 million light-years away, is visible to the naked eye as a weak nebula in the constellation Andromeda.
With a diameter of around 150,000 light-years, the Andromeda Galaxy is a little larger than the Milky Way and is similarly surrounded by smaller satellite galaxies.
The Andromeda Galaxy is one of the few galaxies that is moving towards us and will probably collide with the Milky Way in several billion years (see the astronomy question from week 30: Whither goest thou, Milky Way?).
Star cluster - galaxy - galaxy group/galaxy cluster - supercluster
On greater length scales, the Local Group is assigned to the Virgo Supercluster. In the centre of the Virgo Supercluster there is the Virgo Galaxy Cluster, which is named after the constellation Virgo. The Local Group is attracted by the large mass of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster and is moving towards it.
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Stellar Chemistry, The Universe And All Within It
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