It is incredibly difficult to find out what the Milky Way actually looks like. Imagine that you are in the middle of the forest, and you need to map all the trees that are in the forest.
You can easily observe everything that directly surrounds you, but more distant objects are partially or completely hidden. They are difficult to notice or impossible to see at all.
- Half-Life Of Uranium-235 is 700 Million Years, Then Why Are People In Hiroshima Still Alive?
- What Happens If We Drop 1 Trillion Buckets Of Water On The Sun?
- How Is It Possible That The Universe Extends To 93 Billion Light-Years If It Is Only 13.8 Billion Years Old?
- Is It Possible To Pick Up A Meteorite That Has Just Fallen?
Almost the same task astronomers are facing. One of the first serious attempts to map the Milky Way was made by William and Caroline Herschel at the end of the 18th century.
They used a telescope to carefully count the stars in the sky in different directions. Based on their observations, the Herschels created a series of diagrams and a map:
Although it was a very bold attempt, unfortunately, today it seems hopelessly naive. Dark clouds of dust hide almost all the stars outside the solar system.
While dust clouds block all visible optical light, they transmit infrared and radio waves much better.
Therefore, after astronomers realized that they needed infrared and radio telescopes, the first real glimpses of the more distant stars of our galaxy were obtained.
Only in the 1920s, during the Great Debate between astronomers Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, the views among members of the astronomical community finally shifted to the fact that the Milky Way is not the whole Universe, but only one of many billions of galaxies.
Usually, all the photos you can find are either fiction-based ones on diagrams or photos of other galaxies, like the pictures above.
The real photos of our galaxy look like this:
But even today, with the best telescopes, we still only have a schematic representation of the Milky Way.