Galaxies are huge congregations of stars held together by the gravitational force. They are often called island universes due to their size. There are more than a trillion galaxies in the visible universe alone. Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is a part of a collection of 24 galaxies, named Local Group, that travel through space together.
Milky Way is a spiral galaxy. The diameter of its globular nucleus is about 16,000 light years. It has far-stretching spiral arms in one of which our solar system is located. The galaxy extends to a length of 100,000 light years and consists of hundreds of billions of stars. Its centre is occupied by a massive black hole.
A major feature of the Milky Way is the bright band of light that runs in an almost perfect circle through it. The band is actually made up of millions of glittering stars which appear to be situated in close proximity, when seen from far away. It is this river of light what gives the galaxy its name.
It is not entirely clear who named the Milky Way so, the stories of which are long lost to history. Long ago, the Romans used to call the galaxy ‘Via Lactea,’ which translates to ‘road of milk’ in Latin. However, the Romans are believed to have got the name from the Greeks, who used to call it ‘Galaxias Kyklos, which translates into ‘milky circle.’ All these are owing to the appearance of the galaxy in night sky, which looks like a long silver line.
There is a Greek myth about the formation of galaxies which may have contributed to its name. Once, the supreme god of Greeks, Zeus, brought his son Heracles home for Hera to breastfeed while she was sleeping. Heracles was born of one of Zeus’ affairs and was half-mortal. Hera did not like him. When Hera awoke, Heracles was feeding and she quickly pushed the child away, causing a few drops of milk to spill into the night sky. These milk drops became Milky Way, according to the myth. Other languages have different names for the Milky Way, though most of those are some kinds of variations of the phrase. In Germany, the galaxy is called ‘Milchstrasse’ and Norwegians have named the galaxy ‘Melkeveien.’ In most of the European languages, the word for the galaxy is derived from the Latin name.
In Chinese, the word for Milky Way means ‘silver river’ and its Sanskrit name ‘Mandakini’ means calm. The South Indian languages refer it to as ‘Aakasha Ganga’, meaning ‘Ganges of Space’. In any way, its appearance and local legends have contributed greatly to its nomenclature in various languages.
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