The beautiful image above shows what the Milky Way looks like from Earth. What type of galaxy is the Milky Way? The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy some 100,000 light years away across, and contains around 200-500 billion stars. Our solar system is approximately 30,000 light years from the centre. The Milky Way could be as old as 12 billion years.
Our galaxy is home to star clusters, nebulae, and hundreds of billions of stars and many more planets. It was once believed that the Milky Way Galaxy was the only galaxy, a kind of island universe. However, Edwin Hubble discovered in the early 20th century that the universe is in fact home to billions of galaxies.
The Milky Way falls into the category of a spiral galaxy, however, it has an interesting distinction. The centre is not spherical, rather, our galactic centre is elongated, meaning that our galaxy is a barred spiral galaxy. Most of our knowledge about the Milky Way comes from the Spitzer space telescope. It discovered that our Galaxy is in fact made of 90% dark matter, meaning that all the matter we see in our galaxy is really only 10% of what's actually there.
Unfortunately our galaxy won't always be here. We are currently on a collision course with our nearest galactic neighbour the Andromeda Galaxy. In about 4-5 billion years these two galaxies will collide and form one elliptical galaxy.
The name Milky Way comes from the Latin words "via lactea" meaning milky road, which in turn was taken from the Greek words "galaxias kyklos" meaning milky circle. The name originated after a Greek myth. When Zeus fathered Heracles by a mortal female, he put his son on the sleeping Hera's breast to suckle him. Hera realized what Zeus had done and tore the baby from her breast. Her milk shot through the night sky, creating the Milky Way. The origin of our galaxies name is quite strange.
Image credit: @shainblumphotography