This month’s performance of Gateway to the Stars will feature some of the grandest objects in the universe – the “galaxies”!
For centuries, our Milky Way Galaxy was thought to house all of the components of the universe. But as telescopes got larger and detection methods became more detailed in the late 19th century, many clouds of gas (especially those described as “spiral nebulae”) were suspected to be separate galaxies distinct from the Milky Way (“island universes” in their own right).
In the early 20th century it was confirmed – the universe had thousands of other
galaxies in addition to the Milky Way, and the univese suddenly became a whole lot bigger. Now, with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope and new major ground-based observatories, we can confirm the existence of several hundred billion galaxies, each one containing anywhere from a few billion to over a trillion stars. Mind boggling, yes. But also an opportunity to understand how our universe has transformed and provided the right conditions for the creation of planets and life.
From the Earth, what we call the Milky Way (that faint band of light that sometimes stretches across the sky) is actually just a portion of two nearby sprial arms in our galaxy. We’re simply looking at our local galactic neighborhood. But the Spring skies are different – the Milky Way seems to be mostly absent in the sky! That’s because sometimes our planet is looking out of the plane of our galaxy, and so the band of the Milky Way seems to be laying around the horizon where it’s impossible to distinguish it from the horizon glow.
But that also means we don’t have the stars, dust and gas high in the sky to obscure our view of what lays outside of our galaxy. We get a fantastic opportunity, when the skies are clear and dark, to peer millions of light years into what’s called “intergalactic space.” And when you do, you will find the faint little blobs of light that represent other galaxies in space.
Of course, seeing galaxies requires a telescope (it doesn’t have to be your own!) and a star atlas so you know how to pinpoint them. That’s just a part of what we’ll demonstrate in the Gateway to the Stars show. We’ll give you tips on how to observe these distant relics of the universe.
However, there are other great objects to see right now - the Spring constellations, the Moon, the planets Venus, Mars and Saturn. But we’ll also give you a preview of how to best observe the Annular Solar Eclipse of May 20. The “annular” phase will be visible from southwest Utah (as long as the skies are clear of course!)