The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim “milky” glowing band arching across the night sky, in which the naked eye cannot distinguish individual stars. The term “Milky Way” is a translation of the Classical Latin via lactea, from the Hellenistic Greek (pr. galaxías kýklos, “milky circle”). The Milky Way appears like a band because it is a disk-shaped structure being viewed from inside. The fact that this faint band of light is made up of stars was proven in 1610 when Galileo Galilee used his telescope to resolve it into individual stars. In the 1920′s, observations by astronomer Edwin Hubble showed that the Milky Way is just one of many galaxies.
The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy 100,000–120,000 light-years in diameter containing 200–400 billion stars. It may contain at least as many planets. Our Solar System is located within the disk, around two thirds of the way out from the Galactic Center, on the inner edge of a spiral-shaped concentration of gas and dust called the Orion–Cygnus Arm. The stars in the inner 10,000 light-years are organized in a bulge and one or more bars. The very center is marked by an intense radio source named Sagittarius A* which is likely to be a super-massive black hole. The Galaxy rotates deferentially, faster towards the center and slower towards the outer edge. The rotational period is about 200 million years at the position of the Sun. The Galaxy as a whole is moving at a velocity of 552 to 630 km per second, depending on the relative frame of reference. It is estimated to be about 13.2 billion years old, nearly as old as the Universe. Surrounded by several smaller satellite galaxies, the Milky Way is part of the Local Group of galaxies, which forms a subcomponent of the Virgo Supercluster.
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