A Galaxy Rises out of the Ocean

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Jan. 19 2014 8:00 AM

A Galaxy Rises out of the Ocean

I do love a good Milky Way picture, especially when the composition, the foreground, is something striking or unexpected. Photographer Michael Shainblum (whom you may remember from the time-lapse animations “Existence” and “Into the Atmosphere,” as well as a previous Milky Way photo I featured here) has done just such a thing, taking a lovely shot of our galaxy apparently rising out of the ocean:

Milky Way
The Milky Way sprawls across the Pacific. Click to galactinate.

Photo by Michael Shainblum, used by permission

He was in Gaviota, Calif., when he took this shot in April 2013. He used a fish-eye lens, which is why the normally straight glow of the Milky Way appears curved. The 30 second exposure blurred and softened the incoming waves from the Pacific Ocean, somewhat appropriately giving a milky feel to them. My eye was drawn to the rocks there; the long sheets of sedimentary layers tilted at an angle, presumably laid down flat millions of years ago and then later canted by the rock uplifted to the left (north).

Advertisement

The huge scale of this picture (it spans a third of the way across the sky) makes it hard to pin down some of the stars, but the bright one on the right is Antares in Scorpius, the bright pink patch of fuzz near the Milky Way’s center is the famous Lagoon Nebula, and to the upper left is the bright blue spark of Vega

A Roadmap to the Milky Way  (Annotated)
You are here: illustrated map of the Milky Way. Click for more info.

Illustration by Robert Hurt, IPAC; Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

I’m commonly asked what it means to see the Milky Way in the sky. Our galaxy is a flat disk, and we are inside that disk, about halfway from the center to the edge. When we look toward the galactic center, it’s like being in the suburbs and looking toward the downtown region; there are more lights in that direction, and it’s brighter there. Since the galaxy is flat, we see it as a thick stream of light across the sky, like milk spilled by the gods across the heavens. That’s why it’s called the Milky Way; we mean both the way it appears in the sky as well as the galaxy itself (you can usually tell which one astronomers mean by the context). The word “galaxy” is derived from the Latin for milk!

The thickening at the middle is called the hub or bulge, and we see it in other disk galaxies, which is another strong bit of evidence we live in such a galaxy. We also know about our galaxy’s spiral arms by looking out into it using radio telescopes and measuring the velocities and positions of giant clouds of gas; they trace the structure of the Milky Way’s magnificent spiral.

Pictures like Shainblum’s are certainly beautiful, but they also hint at the depth and nature of the Universe. It’s like a code, or a puzzle, with the pieces gathered and just waiting to be assembled. That’s one of the many reasons I love science! It helps us see the bigger picture.

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 2:05 PM Paul Farmer Says Up to Ninety Percent of Those Infected Should Survive Ebola. Is He Right?
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 22 2014 2:27 PM Facebook Made $595 Million in the U.K. Last Year. It Paid $0 in Taxes
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 22 2014 1:01 PM The Surprisingly Xenophobic Origins of Wonder Bread
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 10:39 PM Avengers: Age of Ultron Looks Like a Fun, Sprawling, and Extremely Satisfying Sequel
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 2:59 PM Netizen Report: Twitter Users Under Fire in Mexico, Venezuela, Turkey
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.