|ESA Science & Technology||03-Aug-2005 11:04:50|
Galaxies and the Expanding Universe
Structure of Milky Way
The Milky Way Galaxy, the home of our Solar System and approximately 400 billion other stars and their planets, has a spiral structure. With a diameter of around 120 000 light years, the Milky Way's mass could amount to one trillion solar masses. Everything in the Milky Way galaxy orbits around a centre of mass called the Galactic Centre. At the distance of the Sun a full orbit takes 225 million years - even though the Solar System is travelling at 250 km per second.
The Milky Way has a distinct shape, formed by the three major components that make up the galaxy:
The Sun is located around 28 000 light years from the Milky Way€™s centre, equivalent to roughly two thirds of the way from the centre, a distance confirmed by data acquired by ESA€™s astrometric satellite Hipparcos. The Solar System is found in a smaller spiral arm called the Local or Orion Arm. This arm connects two much bigger arms, the Sagittarius Arm and the Perseus Arm.
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