Where do you live? If asked that question, you might respond with the name of the street you live on. Or you might tell someone what town you’re from. If you’re on vacation, you might even respond with your state or country.

But what if aliens asked you? If you told them Earth, they might have no idea what or where Earth is. You might have to tell them what galaxy you live in. Have you ever thought of yourself as the resident of a galaxy? Well, you are! And it’s called the Milky Way.

A galaxy is a huge group of stars that are bound together by gravity. How huge? Consider this: our star — the Sun — is just one of approximately 200 billion stars in the Milky Way! Just about everything we can see in the sky is part of the Milky Way.

The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy. This means it is like a thin disk with arms that radiate outward in a spiral shape. Our solar system can be found on the outer edge of the Milky Way on one of the spiral arms.

The Sun is about 25,000 light years from the center of the Milky Way. Overall, the Milky Way is between 80,000-120,000 light years wide, but only about 7,000 light years thick.

It’s hard to understand these measurements, so you can think of the size of the Milky Way in this way: if you reduced it to the size of a football field, our solar system would be about the size of a grain of sand and located at one of the outer edges.

Our solar system orbits around the Milky Way at the rate of about 155 miles per second. That’s fast! But the Milky Way is so huge that it still takes our solar system about 200-250 million years to orbit once around the Milky Way!

You may see pictures of the Milky Way from time to time. These are not actual photographs, because we’ve never sent a spaceship outside of the Milky Way. However, special telescopes allow astronomers to know a lot about our galaxy. Its hazy, “milky” appearance gave rise to its name.

As big as the Milky Way is, it’s only one of several galaxies in a group of galaxies that astronomers call the Local Group. To make you feel even smaller, astronomer Edwin Hubble showed in the 1920s that the Milky Way is only one of about 200 billion galaxies in the universe!

And, as galaxies go, the Milky Way isn’t nearly the largest. Astronomers believe the nearby Andromeda Galaxy contains as many as one trillion stars!

36 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (9 votes, avg. 4.33 out of 5)
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    • Thanks for letting us know you thought today’s Wonder was cool, VolleyballGirl13! We’re glad you liked it…we all learned some fun facts about bugs, didn’t we? :-)

  1. I might not see some bugs at night, but I always see a state butterfly called the”zebra butterfly” which is black and yellow. I see them under the leafy, small tree. :)

    • We bet those Zebra Butterflies are awesome to see and WONDER about, Carlos! Thanks so much for sharing about them with us today! :-)

  2. I loved today’s WONDER!
    I learned a new fact – butterflies hang on branches to sleep, rest and protect from predators, just like bats!

    How do you make a smiley face?

    • Hello, Sophie! Thanks for stopping by this Wonder of the Day® and THANKS for sharing your favorite fact about butterflies! To make the smiley faces, you put a “:” (colon), a “-” (small dash) and a “)” (ending parenthesis) together without any spaces.

      So, : + – + ) = :-) !

    • You’re very welcome, Sophie! Thank YOU for visiting Wonderopolis and for always leaving us WONDERful comments! :-)

    • That’s OK, Rahul! Guessing is FUN no matter if we’re right or not…it gives our Wonder brains a work out! Thanks for sharing what you think tomorrow’s Wonder is about, too! :-)

  3. Wow, again to be the first to vote. Anyway, I love the video it was amazing, but I’ve never seen the milky way in real life. And I will never see it in 200-250 million years, it’s impossible. But nice article. :-) :-(

    • Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about the Milky Way, Carlos! We thought the video was amazing, too! We hope you are enjoying your Saturday…we’re super happy you spent some of it WONDERing with us in Wonderopolis! :-)

  4. Dear Wonderopolis,

    I loved today’s wonder! I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day is about monkeys.

    Sorry that I didn’t leave a comment for a while. I was too busy in the past week.

    Remember back on wonder of the day #650 – What is bastille day? I thought wonder of the day #651 was about Chameleons and I was right. Wonder of the day #651 was about Chameleons. Wonder of the day #651 was Why do Chameleons change their colors?

    TJ

    • You’re such an AWESOME Wonder guesser AND Wonder Friend, TJ! We think that ROCKS! Thank you for sharing what you think tomorrow’s Wonder will be about, too! We hope you are enjoying your summer so far…THANKS for spending some time hanging out with us in Wonderopolis! :-)

  5. Dear WONDERpolis,
    Well I thought that there was only one galaxy in the universe! I WONDER if there are any UFO’s in space, probably buzzing around Mars?

    Sophie :)

    • Hi, Sophie! We’re glad you learned some cool new facts about galaxies by exploring this Wonder of the Day®! We really liked learning about them, too! Thank you for stopping by Wonderopolis today! :-)

    • We’re so glad to hear that you enjoyed exploring this Wonder of the Day® and that you thought the video was cool, Joseph! Thanks for letting us know that, and THANKS for visiting Wonderopolis today! :-)

    • You are such an AMAZING Wonder Friend, Julie! We can always count on you to share a GREAT comment or two with us each day! Thanks for being YOU! :-)

  6. The Milky Way is in a cluster called the local group but the supercluster we belong to is is called the Virgo cluster. Speaking of the andromeda galaxy it has more stars but it is not as massive. Even though it is bigger.

    • WOW, we’re very proud of all the great information you have shared with us, Wonder Friend KZP! Thanks for pointing out the differences between clusters, groups and galaxies– you’re a stellar Wonder Friend! :)

    • What a great point, Hunter! We think you have been doing a great job of WONDERing about the universe on your own, Hunter! Nice work! :)

  7. That was AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!! I love stars and space!! I was about to cry because it was sooooooo pretty!!!! I have a cool WONDER that maybe you could use, how many stars are in the Milky Way????

  8. Hey wonderopolis… anymore about space? And by the way the collision of milkyway and andromeda galaxy…what about it?

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Where is the Milky Way?
  • How big is the Milky Way?
  • How many stars are in the Milky Way?

Wonder Gallery

Milky Way_shutterstock_44212696Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to take a tour of the Milky Way? No, you won’t need a spacesuit. Just grab a friend or family member and a computer and jump online to check out the 3D Milky Way Tour.

If you want to see more images of the Milky Way taken by NASA, check out these cool online photo galleries. Isn’t it cool how telescopes help scientists take pictures of things so far away?

We think it’s neat how the pictures of the Milky Way look like art. If you want to make your own version of the Milky Way, follow the directions to make your own Milky Way Night Light!

Still Wondering

Science NetLinks’ Looking at the Night Sky interactive helps children understand that the patterns of stars in the sky stay the same and different stars can be seen in different seasons.

Wonder What’s Next?

Tomorrow’s all-new Wonder of the Day will have you swinging between the trees!

Upload a Photo or Paste the URL of a YouTube or SchoolTube Video.