Visitor’s Guide to the Milky Way

  • Astronomers recently determined the exact colour of the Milky Way: “A very pure white, almost mirroring a fresh spring snowfall.” Image credit: GSFC
  • Kepler-22b is just 2,4 times Earth's size. Images by NASA
  • Cygnus X, one of the most active regions of star formation in the galaxy. Images by NASA
  • GJ1214b, a watery planet with a steamy atmosphere. Images by NASA
  • Two gamma-ray bubbles, each 25 000 light-years tall, straddle the galactic ccentre. Images by NASA
Date:21 July 2012 Tags:, , , , ,

Scientists announced in January that 10 billion stars in the Milky Way may be orbited by Earth-like planets. Not only are these planets expected to be similar in size to our own, but they’re also located in zones temperate enough for liquid water to form. That’s good news for intergalactic tourism, says University of Copenhagen astrophysicist Uffe Jørgensen, who led the research. Jørgensen predicts that people will begin colonising the Moon and Mars, then eventually travel to planets around other stars. Here’s what adventurous planet-hoppers should know before leaving home. – By Sarah Fecht

Natural wonder  Nothing beats a double sunset. The planets Kepler-16b, -34b and -35b each orbit two stars at once, much like Tatooine in Star Wars. According to new research, such double-sun planets may be common throughout the galaxy.

Luxury shopping  Orbiting a pulsar in the Milky Way’s Serpens, or Snake, constellation, may be the most beautiful planet you’ll ever lay eyes on. It is certainly the most valuable. This rock is about five times the diameter of Earth and made almost entirely of diamond.

Clubs and nightlife  Astronomers have found a mysterious haze at the heart of the galaxy. The light appears to be produced by an “absolutely enormous” cloud of energetic particles racing through the galaxy’s magnetic field, but the particles’ origin has so far defied explanation.

Outdoor recreation  A small black hole named IGR J17091 produces some of the fastest winds in the galaxy – perfect for hardcore paragliding. The magnetic fields around the black hole cause material to rush away from it at about 32 million km/h.

Be sure not to miss!
Home exchange
Located 620 light-years away in the Cygnus constellation, Kepler-22b is just 2,4 times Earth’s size. It orbits a Sun-like star and may even have Earth-like temperatures.

Fireworks
Celebrate the birth of new stars at Cygnus X, one of the most active regions of star formation in the galaxy. Shock waves, intense UV light and stellar winds create a spectacular show.

Spa treatment
At upwards of 232 degrees Celsius, the watery planet GJ1214b has a steamy atmosphere. Deep inside it, H20 behaves strangely, creating materials such as hot ice and superfluid water.

Historic landmark
Two gamma-ray bubbles, each 25 000 light-years tall, straddle the galactic centre. They’re probably the product of star formation or the eruption of a supermassive black hole.

Go to Guide to the Milky Way to download wallpaper images.

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