We have stunning shots of other galaxies but we don’t exactly know what the Milky Way itself looks like. Large parts of it that lie on the far side from where we are are obscured by thick dust clouds.
A computer-generated image of the Milky Way galaxy. Credit: NRAO
It is a constant source of amazement how much we know and don’t know about our universe at the same time. For example, we’ve seen some of the most distant stars but we struggle to agree about whether there’s a planet in the outer Solar System. We’ve detected gravitational waves emanating from blackholes that collided billions of years ago but we’re yet to fully understand the supermassive blackhole at the Milky Way’s centre. The Breakthrough Starshot project wants to send swarms of probes to Proxima Centauri within the next decade but we don’t exactly know what the Milky Way looks like (because we’re inside it). Such fascinating contradictions – to understand which we will have to revisit the different kinds of astronomical probes humankind has used across time. But that’s for a different day.
What’s for today is a new study that has a plan to determine what the Milky Way ...