The Sky is Full of Galaxies!
Go outside on any clear night and look up at the night sky. Every star you see belongs to the stellar community we live in known as the Milky Way galaxy -- a flattened spiral structure 100,000 light years across that is home to over 200,000 million stars, our Sun being just one. Because our Solar System lies about 30,000 light years from the galaxy's center, from Earth our galaxy appears as a white glowing band stretching across the sky, hence the name "The Milky Way."
Make a special effort to view the Milky Way one moonless night from a very dark location far from the light and air pollution that surrounds modern cities. The sight of the Milky Way as it stretches from horizon-to-horizon is the most spectacular sight you will ever see, and yet it is experienced by so few people these days. Make the effort and you will always treasure the moment.
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The Universe is believed to be made up of over 200,000 million galaxies. You may be familiar with the brightest ones -- the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds in the southern hemisphere. But where are the rest? The answer is... everywhere! The sky is full of galaxies!
This was well demonstrated in 1995 when the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) took one of the most amazing images ever seen. The telescope was used to photograph a tiny area of the sky near the Big Dipper where previously no stars or other objects were known to exist. For 10 days the HST took images one after another of that tiny spot--as small as a grain of sand held at arm's length -- to produce one image known as the Hubble Deep Field (HDF). The HDF shows extremely faint galaxies billions of light years away, some at the most distant reaches of the cosmos. Over 1,500 galaxies at various stages of evolution are visible in the original HDF image.
Three years later, the 10-day-long experiment was repeated by photographing an area of the southern sky near the constellation Tucana. The final image (HDF-S) revealed a dazzling gallery of never-before seen galaxies, this time over 2,500 of them! Both deep field images have provided Astronomers with extremely useful data on the early formation of galaxies, and appear to validate the belief that the Universe looks largely the same in any direction -- that is, the sky is full of galaxies!
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