Milky Way with zooming technique, Atacama desert, Chile © Getty Images

How do we know what the Milky Way looks like?

It's surprisingly difficult to measure something from the inside.

Asked by: Keith Manley, Catford


Ironically, the exact shape of our own galaxy is one of the hardest of all such systems to determine. After all, we’ve no choice but to view it from the inside. In the 1780s William Herschel became the first to observe the galaxy’s spiral shape. Then in 1926, Edwin Hubble pinned down an accurate morphology of the Milky Way as he systematically classified the varying galaxy shapes in the observable Universe.

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