What is the Milky Way?
Simply put, the Milky Way is a galaxy—more specifically, a spiral galaxy. (Galaxies take on different shapes, and can be spiral, barred, elliptical or irregular.) It may be a barred spiral galaxy. It is part of a set of galaxies termed the Local Group. On a clear, dark night, what appears like fine gauze (Isaiah 40:22) is draped over the night sky. This gauze is a portion of the Milky Way, our celestial home.
The Milky Way consists of arms spiraling outward from a brilliant glowing center. The Sun revolves around the outer edge of the Milky Way, traveling at half-a-million miles-per-hour, situated approximately 26,000 light-years from the galaxy's center. Astronomers estimate that the Milky Way contains perhaps 400 billion stars and is more than 100,000 light-years across. If this seems like a lot of stars, consider our neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy—another spiral galaxy. It is estimated to contain a trillion stars!
The term "Milky Way" is derived from the Ancients who thought the streak of white across the heavens looked like a river of milk. Stars, planets, gas clouds, clusters and nebulae make up our galactic home. Surrounding the Milky Way is a "halo." The halo is a roughly spherical distribution of older stars, surrounding the galaxy. The Milky Way is believed to contain a black hole called Sagitarrius A*, or Sag A*. One recent discovery is the existence of two "bubbles" of energy containing an energy equivalent to 100,000 supernova explosions.