The Milky Way's Disappearing Act

Where is the Milky Way? At our mid northern latitudes during the month of May, the great band of stars known as the Milky Way simply vanishes from the evening sky.

During the evening this month, the equator of the Milky Way circles the rim of the horizon, with the North Galactic Pole standing high overhead in the constellation Coma Berenices, or Berenices's Hair. In this direction, where the glare and the dust of the Milky Way are minimal, the sky beckons you to look at the deep-sky objects beyond the Milky Way. As seen from the North Galactic Pole, the Sun and the solar system revolve clockwise around the center or nucleus of the Milky Way Galaxy. The galactic plane is the plane in which the majority of a disk-shaped galaxy's mass lies. The directions perpendicular to the galactic plane point to the galactic poles. Most often, in actual usage, the terms "galactic plane" and "galactic poles" are used to refer specifically to the plane and poles of the Milky Way, which is the galaxy in which the Earth is located.

Milky Way

Photo Credit: European Southern Observatory 

When the Milky Way rims the horizon on a May Day evening, it means the year is about halfway between the March equinox and the June solstice. It is easy to imagine the frost of winter giving way to the fireflies of summer.

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