In the early 1920s, Edwin Hubble (in whose honor the Hubble Space Telescope was named) was peering through his telescope. As he examined many of the points of light that astronomers had thought were stars or “spiral nebulae” in our galaxy, he realized that they are much more than that. He discovered that they are other galaxies!
By the mid-1920s, everyone knew that our Milky Way is only one of a myriad of other galaxies. Since then, we have learned many things about our galaxy, but we still have much to learn. The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy in the shape of a large saucer. Other types of galaxies–which are the majority–cannot support planets and therefore are not suitable for life.
We are spinning around our spiral galaxy at about 120 miles (200 kilometers) per second. At that rate, it will take us 250,000,000 years to make one complete orbit of the galaxy. We can’t take a picture of the entire Milky Way because to travel outside of our galaxy would take many thousands of years–even at the speed of light. We can take pictures of other galaxies, and this one is another spiral galaxy named M74.
The Milky Way’s disk is about 100,000 light-years across, and we are about 27,200 light-years from the center. It’s good that we are not near the center because that is the location of a giant black hole. It is also fortunate that we live in an area of the galaxy that is not crowded with quasars, black holes, and other major hazards. The galaxy area with the most gas and dust is less than 500 light-years from the central plane–far away from us. That means we are in an area relatively free of debris, so this is an excellent spot to get a good view of our galaxy as well as other galaxies and stars.
Is it just a coincidence that we are in the right kind of galaxy and in the best position in that galaxy to be safe and to be able to study and observe the universe? We think God wanted us to be in a hospitable place where we could see the majesty of His creation.
— Roland Earnst © 2021