“Practice staring at the Milky Way if you want to gain some understanding of its structure”, J Robert Oppenheimer. (Astronomy Magazine July 2016 p.51 Richard Wilds author)
Sound advice from the first director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory! The same advice he gave to Russian born astrophysicist Sergei Gaposchkin, who spent his free time drawing the entire Milky Way in ink from his viewing site at Mount Stromlo Observatory in Australia in the late 50’s! So I decided, now that I had a dark sky viewing site I would do the same, armed with a reproduced representation of the Milky Way, that was created by Dr Gaposchkin, published by Astronomy Magazine showing the details of the Southern Milky Way with all the dark nebulosity sweeps and curves. I encourage everyone to read this excellent article by Richard Wilds in the July issue of Astronomy. Anyway from my dark sky viewing site in Mayhill NM at Mintaka Hill, I can see the Milky way all the way to the horizon. We’re a Bortle 2 sky on a scale of 1 to 9. It’s very dark. Not too many areas like this certainly in the continental US. It’s a spectacle you cannot get tired of. Even without a telescope or anything other than my eye, every time I have a chance to get outside up here I make a point of doing so. Last night at around 1:30 the Milky Way was directly overhead. We are obviously still in the Northern Hemisphere so we can see down to just below Sagittarius into the constellation Lupus. I had always known that Sagittarius was the direction of the “center of the galaxy” and I have been able to see fairly dense star clouds in the area at other sites such as my home 2 hours from here in Las Cruces, NM but nothing that really looked like an actual galaxy center structurally, until now. After about 15 minutes of dark adaptation I began to notice a distinct nebulosity extending from Sagittarius and seeming to wrap around the head of Scorpius. The width of this “bulge” was about twice that of the main Milky Way band. Inside of the bulge was an area consisting of smaller streaks and waves of dark patches, obviously dust. AHA! The Central Bulge of the Milky Way is discovered! Honestly it is like being transported in a space ship right into the heart of any edge on galaxy you may have observed, right next to the galaxy’s core! So check it out the next time you have a chance to observe in a dark site..and take Astronomy July issue page 51 with you. Thanks for reading!