Astronomy

When can I see the Milky Way from the Earth?

When can I see the Milky Way from the Earth?


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Light pollution is restricting most people from ever seeing the Milky Way from the Earth.

Is there any place in India where I can see the Milky Way?

Is there a database or site with the list of all places where I can see it?

Also, how can we calculate that?


Wherever you have a dark place, you can see the Milky Way. Anywhere in the countryside, far from large cities might work. And it doesn't need to be a very far away - a few km may do the work, specially if there are some hills in between.


Yes, you can see the Milky Way

The Milky Way Galaxy is one of the most interesting naked eye sights in the night sky. The name comes from its appearance as a dim glowing milky band arching across the night sky. The term Milky Way is a translation from Latin via lactea and Greek milky circle as seen from inside. However, it’s not bright, and it’s not always well placed to be seen. So to see it, you will have to meet the following minimum requirements:
‐ Finding a dark clear night sky with no moonlight are the key words here for a best view of the Milky Way in the grand design (you can get an app that will show you the Moon Phases Calendar for iPhone here or for Android here)
‐ No city lights, no headlights, basically as far as you can from any source of light pollution. You will need to travel far from any city, to a wild area or rural countryside. The best viewing site would be from the middle of the ocean either northern hemisphere or southern hemisphere being so far away from the artificial city lights.
‐ No telescopes, no binoculars, (just eyeglasses if you’re near sighted) and at least one eyeball. TIP: By using a cheap binoculars which I got from Amazon can increase the view experience being able to see other galaxies as Andromeda Galaxy (M31), nebulae and event comets. At the other end you can use a high end telescope which also I got from Amazon that allows you to simply enter the date, time and your location, and then it points to the star. A fat telescope like this model offers views of celestial objects that you may not be able to view with a smaller reflector.
‐ Best atmospheric conditions, a misty sky wouldn’t block it completely, nor would humidity. It would make it not as sharp, but still visible.
‐ Give your eyes at least 15-20 minutes to adapt to the darkness though. Your eyes will become more sensitive to low light level.
‐ A little bit of timing in late summer or winter evenings in Northern Hemisphere.

We live in the Milky Way Galaxy, this means that every time we gaze at the night sky we are looking at the Milky Way Galaxy. More exactly the spiral arm closer to the galactic center one part of the year and in the other part we see the near edge of the spiral arm farther from the galactic center. Due to nebula and dust clouds, we can’t see the center of our Galaxy (in visible light) at any time.

How to find the Milky Way

The summer Milky Way will look brighter in the Northern Hemisphere. Most noticeably you should be able to see the Great Rift in good dark skies. This dark lane in between Cygnus and Scutum is where a string of dense interstellar clouds block the view of more distant stars. At longer wavelengths in the infrared, light passes through these clouds more easily and we get a better view of the overall shape of our Galaxy, but there are still enough clouds created a dark reddened lane through the middle of the Milky Way Galaxy.
The two Magellanic Clouds irregular dwarf galaxies are visible from the Southern Hemisphere which may be orbiting our Milky Way Galaxy.

Milky Way facts

How big is the Milky Way Galaxy?

The Milky Way Galaxy is our home in the existing Universe, it is a barred spiral galaxy 100,000‐120,000 light-years in diameter containing 200‐400 billion stars and at least as many planets including our solar system. The galactic center is named Sagittarius A and its believed to hold a super-massive black hole with an estimated mass of 4.1‐4.5 million times the mass of our Sun.

How old is the Milky Way Galaxy?

Milky Way Galaxy is approximately 13.7 billion years old, almost as the Universe itself. The age is determined by taking the age of the stars in the Milky Way.

Stars in the Milky Way Galaxy

The Milky Way contains at least 100 billion stars and may have up to 400 billion stars. The exact number is not known.

Milky Way Galaxy from Earth

Earth, along with the Solar System, is situated in the Milky Way galaxy, orbiting about 28,000 light years from the center of the galaxy.


Yes, you can see the Milky Way

How to see the Milky Way Galaxy from Earth at night with the naked eye?

The Milky Way Galaxy is one of the most interesting naked eye sights in the night sky. The name comes from its appearance as a dim glowing milky band arching across the night sky. The term Milky Way is a translation from Latin via lactea and Greek milky circle as seen from inside. However, it’s not bright, and it’s not always well placed to be seen. So to see it, you will have to meet the following minimum requirements:
‐ Finding a dark clear night sky with no moonlight are the key words here for a best view of the Milky Way in the grand design (you can get an app that will show you the Moon Phases Calendar for iPhone here or for Android here)
‐ No city lights, no headlights, basically as far as you can from any source of light pollution. You will need to travel far from any city, to a wild area or rural countryside. The best viewing site would be from the middle of the ocean either northern hemisphere or southern hemisphere being so far away from the artificial city lights.
‐ No telescopes, no binoculars, (just eyeglasses if you’re near sighted) and at least one eyeball. TIP: By using a cheap binoculars which I got from Amazon can increase the view experience being able to see other galaxies as Andromeda Galaxy (M31), nebulae and event comets. At the other end you can use a high end telescope which also I got from Amazon that allows you to simply enter the date, time and your location, and then it points to the star. A fat telescope like this model offers views of celestial objects that you may not be able to view with a smaller reflector.
‐ Best atmospheric conditions, a misty sky wouldn’t block it completely, nor would humidity. It would make it not as sharp, but still visible.
‐ Give your eyes at least 15-20 minutes to adapt to the darkness though. Your eyes will become more sensitive to low light level.
‐ A little bit of timing in late summer or winter evenings in Northern Hemisphere.

We live in the Milky Way Galaxy, this means that every time we gaze at the night sky we are looking at the Milky Way Galaxy. More exactly the spiral arm closer to the galactic center one part of the year and in the other part we see the near edge of the spiral arm farther from the galactic center. Due to nebula and dust clouds, we can’t see the center of our Galaxy (in visible light) at any time.

How to find the Milky Way

The summer Milky Way will look brighter in the Northern Hemisphere. Most noticeably you should be able to see the Great Rift in good dark skies. This dark lane in between Cygnus and Scutum is where a string of dense interstellar clouds block the view of more distant stars. At longer wavelengths in the infrared, light passes through these clouds more easily and we get a better view of the overall shape of our Galaxy, but there are still enough clouds created a dark reddened lane through the middle of the Milky Way Galaxy.
The two Magellanic Clouds irregular dwarf galaxies are visible from the Southern Hemisphere which may be orbiting our Milky Way Galaxy.

Milky Way facts

How big is the Milky Way Galaxy?

The Milky Way Galaxy is our home in the existing Universe, it is a barred spiral galaxy 100,000‐120,000 light-years in diameter containing 200‐400 billion stars and at least as many planets including our solar system. The galactic center is named Sagittarius A and its believed to hold a super-massive black hole with an estimated mass of 4.1‐4.5 million times the mass of our Sun.

How old is the Milky Way Galaxy?

Milky Way Galaxy is approximately 13.7 billion years old, almost as the Universe itself. The age is determined by taking the age of the stars in the Milky Way.

Stars in the Milky Way Galaxy

The Milky Way contains at least 100 billion stars and may have up to 400 billion stars. The exact number is not known.

Milky Way Galaxy from Earth

Earth, along with the Solar System, is situated in the Milky Way galaxy, orbiting about 28,000 light years from the center of the galaxy.


Where can you see the Milky Way? – 10 best places in the world

It doesn’t matter if your goal is to photograph the Milky Way or you simply want to enjoy a nice view of our galaxy. To maximize your chances, you have to find the best places to see the Milky Way.

To do so, you should consider two things: the best time to see the Milky Way and the best places where you can see the Milky Way in areas away from light pollution and preferably at high elevations.

Below, you’ll find a list of the best places on Earth to see the Milky Way at night. Also, if you’re wondering: where can I see the Milky Way tonight? Don’t worry, I’ll also provide the top tools and tips to find the best places to see the Milky Way near you.

GET THE CALENDAR WITH THE BEST DATES TO PHOTOGRAPH THE MILKY WAY IN 2021


Seeing the Far Side of the Milky Way

By: Monica Young October 13, 2017 1

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The detection of a star-forming region 66,500 light-years from Earth, on the other side of our galaxy’s center, lends weight to the existence of an extended arm of the Milky Way.

This artist’s view of the Milky Way maps the location of the Sun on one side and the star-forming region (water maser source G007.47+00.05) on the opposite side in the Scutum-Centaurus spiral arm.
(c) Bill Saxton / NRAO / AUI / NSF / Robert Hurt / NASA

It’s tempting to look at the Andromeda galaxy, our nearest galactic sibling, as if we’re looking in a mirror. After all, it too is a spiral galaxy, it’s just that it has two spiral arms while the Milky Way has four (and a central bar). No wait, infrared observations showed the Milky Way actually has only two spiral arms. Wait again: Radio observations reveal that all four arms really do exist.

Characterizing the Milky Way’s basic structure has proven a difficult task because, unlike in the case of Andromeda, we can’t just look at it. For one, dust lanes block our visible-light view, so astronomers resort to longer wavelengths to pierce the veils of dust and gas. For another, we sit amongst the clouds and stars that whirl around the galactic center, a position that challenges our ability to discern their distances.

Now Alberto Sanna (Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Germany) and colleagues have published a test-of-concept in the October 13th Science that uses a purely geometric method to map out the farthest reaches of the Milky Way.

Mapping the Milky Way

Most distances in the galaxies are determined via objects’ motions. Gas clouds and stars alike revolve around the galaxy’s center, so if we measure their spectra, we’ll capture spectral lines that have shifted blueward or redward, depending on whether the object is moving toward or away from us. But this technique has its share of problems. Assuming circular orbits isn’t valid near the galaxy’s center, where stars’ orbits change due to the presence of the central bar. Another problem is that the distance to an object that’s circling the galactic center inside the Sun’s own orbit will be ambiguous. A star’s measured velocity could correspond to two possible distances, one nearer and one that’s farther away.

So when Thomas Dame and Patrick Thaddeus (both at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) discovered a segment of spiral arm on the far side of the Milky Way, dubbed the Outer Scutum-Centaurus Arm, they wanted confirmation. Dame and Thaddeus had observed the radio-wave sky in 2011, pinpointing 115-gigahertz emission from star-forming clouds some 68,000 light-years away on the far side of the galactic center, but those distances came by way of measuring the clouds’ velocities.

Later observations of HII regions, cavities carved out by the ultraviolet radiation from newborn stars, also indicated that stars were forming in the outer fringes of the Milky Way. Their distances agreed with the first measurements, but again, they were derived from the source’s velocities.

Now, a single new detection is lending more weight to the outer arm’s existence than dozens of previous detections. That’s because, rather than measuring velocity, Sanna and colleagues determined the source’s distance based on parallax, a purely geometric and extremely precise measure of distance.

The source is a water maser, a pocket of water molecules that has absorbed ultraviolet radiation from newborn stars and is now pumping out microwaves at 22.2 gigahertz. The international team of astronomers used the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) to monitor the water maser’s exact location on the sky relative to background sources. That’s equivalent to monitoring the location of a finger held in front of your face. Relative to background objects, your finger will appear to move based on your viewing angle (e.g., left eye or right eye). The farther your finger, the less it will shift as you change your viewing angle. (In the case of the VLBA, viewing angle changes throughout the year as Earth orbits the Sun.)

The astronomers determined the water maser's distance by measuring the angle of the object's apparent shift in position, as seen from opposite sides of Earth's orbit around the Sun. The technique is known as trigonometric parallax.
(c) Bill Saxton / NRAO / AUI / NSF / Robert Hurt / NASA

The observations yield a parallax angle of 0.049 milli-arcseconds (that’s 0.000049 arcseconds!), which corresponds to a distance of 66,500 light-years. That’s one incredibly precise and unambiguous measurement, and it serves as a proof of concept. Over the coming years, the VLBA will continue to map parallaxes and on-the-sky motions of distant sources such as water masers on a quest to map out the entire Milky Way’s structure.

“Within the next 10 years, we should have a fairly complete picture,” predicts coauthor Mark Reid (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics).

Surprises in Store?

Those future results may contain surprises, as previous studies have already hinted.

One study, by Michael Feast (University of Cape Town, South Africa), used an entirely different method to chart the far side of the Milky Way: Cepheid variable stars. Henrietta Leavitt discovered in 1908 that these stars pulsate in proportion to their luminosity, making them an ideal cosmic ruler. (They’re young stars so, like water masers and HII regions, they’re also associated with star-forming regions.)

Feast discovered Cepheids on the far side of the Milky Way — but they lie even farther away than the water maser, up to 72,000 light-years away from Earth.

The five Cepheid variable stars discovered by Michael Feast and colleagues lie above and below our galaxy's plane as pictured here. The authors suggested they could be part the Outer Scutum-Centaurus (OSC) arm, which flares on the very outer edge of the disk, but with new measurements in hand, it appears the stars lie far beyond the OSC arm. The Sun is the yellow circle on the right side, surrounded by local Cepheid variables known at the time.
Robin Catchpole (University of Cambridge, UK)

Dame, the discoverer of the Outer Scutum-Centaurus (OSC) Arm and a coauthor on the parallax paper, notes that when the Cepheid results first came out, he thought they might mean his initial distance estimate to the OSC arm was too low. But the new parallax result is perfectly in line with his initial estimate, which puts the young Cepheid stars well beyond the OSC arm.

“So I don’t know what to say about the Feast Cepheids at this point,” Dame notes. “Perhaps they are in an arm even farther out than OSC, but there is not much other evidence for such an arm at this point.”

As the VLBA continues its painstaking survey of the Milky Way’s spiral structure, it will be interesting to see what else it finds.

Regardless, this new detection demonstrates that the technique is viable, albeit painstaking and time-consuming. This may be how we map out the far side of the Milky Way over the next 10 years.


Astronauts need to have a faceplate on their helmets to look through, or a window on the shuttle or ISS, and these will absorb or reflect almost as much light as the 15% that the Earth's atmosphere scatters at sea level when it is perfectly clear. You can cut the 15% to 7% or so on Earth by going to a high mountain.

Furthermore, if the Sun or any sunlit part of the Earth are visible to the astronaut, these will dazzle the eyes and shrink the pupil to the point where the Milky Way is invisible, just as for the Apollo astronauts on the Moon.

On the other hand, the atmosphere reduces the contrast of the Milky Way by two effects: 1) scattering of starlight and reflected ground light, the same thing that makes the sky blue in the day and 2) the faint airglow that originates in the upper atmosphere from recombination of ions.

So the Milky Way won't appear much brighter to the astronaut, but it should have more contrast, especially in the outer edges.

By the way, if you think the Milky Way is ghostly and needs averted vision to see, then you haven't been to a truly dark site at the right time of night.


Why can’t I find the Milky Way in May?

Where do you have to look to see the Milky Way in the month of May? If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere this month, searching for the starlit band of the Milky Way during the evening hours, you won’t find it. That’s because, on May evenings, the plane of the Milky Way lies in nearly the same plane as that of our horizon as viewed from the northern part of Earth’s globe. The starlit trail doesn’t cross the dome of your sky after sunset in May. Instead, it lies nearly flat around your horizon on May evenings.

Want specifics? Here you go. The galactic disk rims the horizon as seen from about 30 degrees north latitude – the latitude of Jacksonville, Florida – Cairo in Egypt – or Chengdu in China.

North of this latitude, the galactic disk tilts a bit upward of the northern horizon during the evening hours in May.

South of 30 degrees north latitude, the galactic disk tilts above the southern horizon. Keep going into Earth’s Southern Hemisphere … and you’ll have a reasonably good view of the Milky Way in the south on May evenings. The Southern Cross marks the southern terminus of the Milky Way, which is visible in the Southern Hemisphere and northern tropics at nightfall.

It’s all about our view of the sky – from various parts of Earth – as we orbit the sun. Also, although it’s true that the Milky Way galaxy entirely surrounds us in space, the disk of our Milky Way is flat, like a pancake. The illustration below is an all-sky plot of the 25,000 brightest, whitest stars in the Milky Way. It shows how these stars are concentrated along the flat disk of the Milky Way, as seen in our sky:

This artist’s illustration of the brightest stars in the Milky Way – as seen in our sky – shows our limited, inside view of our own galaxy. The large, dark patch near the middle of the picture is due to nearby dark nebulae, or clouds of gas and dust, which obscure the stars. Image via altasoftheuniverse.com.

Because the Milky Way rims the horizon in every direction at nightfall and early evening, we can’t see this roadway of stars until later at night. Then … whoa! Beautiful. When will you see the Milky Way again?

Like the sun, the stars rise in the east and set in the west, due to Earth’s rotation or spin on its axis. So you can see the Milky Way tonight if you stay up until late night – say, around midnight in early May, or a couple of hours earlier by June.

Or you can see the Milky Way earlier at night still, as the weeks and months pass, and Earth continues on in its orbit around the sun. As we orbit the sun, our evening sky points out toward an ever-shifting panorama of the galaxy. By June, if you’re standing outside in a rural location on a dark night, you might see the starlit trail of the Milky Way ascending in your eastern sky.

By July or August, the Milky Way will be higher up still in the evening. In fact, August is generally considered the best month for Milky Way viewing. From our hemisphere, the galaxy stretches across the sky on August evenings. The center of the galaxy – where the starlit trail of the Milky Way broadens into a wide boulevard of stars – is visible in the south (for us Northern Hemisphere viewers) in August. From the Southern Hemisphere in August, the view is even better. The center of the Milky Way is closer to overhead in August, from the southerly part of Earth’s globe.

It’ll be beautiful. Just wait.

Milky Way over at Goblin Valley State Park, Utah, by Max Moorman Photography. Read more about this photo. Max acquired this photo in the month of June.

Bottom line: Assuming you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, the plane of the Milky Way is as parallel to your horizon as it can be, at nightfall and early evening in the month of May. But if you stay up until around midnight, you’ll begin to see the starlit band of the Milky Way ascending in the eastern sky.


Best Time to See the Milky Way + 2021 Milky Way Chart

Knowing when is the best time to see the Milky Way is key for planning your Milky Way photography sessions and for increasing your chances of success seeing and shooting our galaxy.

Generally speaking, the best time to see the Milky Way is during the Milky Way season, which goes from February to October, usually between 00:00 and 5:00, and on nights with a new moon. This, however, will vary depending on the hemisphere, your latitude, and other factors like the moon phase.

The position of the Milky Way in the sky is also another important factor to consider in Milky Way photography, and this also changes depending on the location.

Throughout this article, we’ll dive into all the details to know when is the best time of year to see the Milky Way in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, when is the best time of day, and when is the best time of year to photograph the Milky Way according to its position in the sky.

But first, to check at a glance the best days of the year to see the Milky Way, you can download our 2021 Milky Way Calendar according to your location. I’ll explain how this Milky Way chart works below.