Gateway to the Stars – May edition

Mike Murray

This month’s performance of Gateway to the Stars coincides with National Astronomy Day, with the show running at 6:45 pm on Saturday, May 7.  Spring is not only the time for Astronomy Day, but is also the best season for observing “galaxies”!

Galaxies are the largest entities in the universe – each can contain anywhere from a few billion to over a trillion stars.  Our solar system belongs to the “Milky Way Galaxy,” a spiral collection of over 200 billion stars.  Each star is essentially another “sun,” and as we have seen recently from the Kepler spacecraft, many of these other suns have planets of their own.

The Milky Way galaxy. Image courtesy NASA.

A spiral galaxy similar to the Milky Way. Image courtesy NASA.

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, we’ll have a chance to observe other things in the Hansen Dome Theatre – constellations, the Moon, the planet Saturn, and upcoming sky events.  Join us in celebration of Astronomy Day, but also to get a glimpse of the “island universes” we call Galaxies! Tickets to Gateway to the Stars are $1 at the ticket window.

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