Space & Time


Galaxy, a massive ensemble of hundreds of millions of stars, all gravitationally interacting, and orbiting about a common center. Astronomers estimate that there are about 125 billion galaxies in the universe. All the stars visible to the unaided eye from Earth belong to Earth’s galaxy, the Milky Way. The Sun, with its associated planets, is just one star in this galaxy. Besides stars and planets, galaxies contain clusters of stars; atomic hydrogen gas; molecular hydrogen; complex molecules composed of hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, and silicon, among others; and cosmic rays (see Interstellar Matter).

Galaxy M100
The spiral galaxy M100 is located between 35 million and 80 million light-years from earth. The Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of the core of M100 after repairs were made to the telescope in December 1993.

Galaxies M86 and M84
The elliptical galaxies M86 (center) and M84 (right) are members of the Virgo cluster of galaxies, located about 50 million light-years away from our smaller cluster, the Local Group. Elliptical galaxies are populated by older stars and contain little interstellar matter. They are usually the brightest galaxies.