|To Native American Seminoles, the Milky Way is the path that leads good souls to heaven. To the Norse, it's a road leading to Valhalla, while Chinese and Arab myths represent it as a river. The name Milky Way comes from the ancient Greeks and their belief that the band was a spray of milk, or "gala," from which the word galaxy originated.|
The Milky Way's center lies in a direction roughly 5° west-northwest of Gamma Sagittarii, the star that marks the point in the teapot's spout.
It takes 200 million years for the sun to complete one revolution around the galactic center. The last time the solar system occupied its current spot, Earth was in the age of reptiles and continental breakup.
Sagittarius is a good place to begin scanning the summer Milky Way with the unaided eye. Here you'll find the Large and Small Sagittarius star clouds, as well as many deep-sky binocular objects. Following the Milky Way northward leads to the Scutum Star Cloud and then into Aquila the Eagle.
At this point, a dark band called the "Great Rift" becomes obvious. It stretches from the star Deneb in Cygnus all the way to Centaurus in the southern sky. The Great Rift is an interstellar dust cloud that blocks the light from stars shining beyond it. These dust clouds are generally found on the inner edges of spiral arms; they're also where most of the new stars are forming.
Once you've taken in the summer Milky Way with the naked eye, get out a pair of binoculars. A modest pair easily shows many targets. Sagittarius alone holds objects such as the Lagoon (M8), Trifid (M20), and Omega (M17) nebulae and open clusters such as M18, M21, M23, and M25.
Cygnus is another fine place to scan for Milky Way treasures. The brightest section, called the Cygnus Star Cloud, lies between the stars Beta and Gamma Cygni. The North America Nebula (NGC 7000) near the bright star Deneb is another good target, and this one even offers a chance to do a bit of geography on the side.
If you seek a binocular challenge, try the Veil Nebula (NGC 6960 and NGC 6992-5). Its faint gossamer wisps can be spotted in a pair of 7x50 binoculars.
When Galileo first pointed his modest spyglass toward the "River of Milk" in 1610, he described it as "an immense number of stars." Views of the Milky Way's vast and dense star clouds can have a profound effect on a curious young child. Foster that curiosity. Take your favorite youngster on a tour of the home spiral.