What is the best way to see the Milky Way? (Intermediate)

My advice for the best view of the Milky Way is to go to the Southern Hemisphere. There the central parts of the Milky Way can be directly overhead, and it can really look like a galaxy. So if you are planning a trip down there any time soon, find some time in your schedule to go to a dark site well away from any city lights. It's worth the trip—as a bonus you can also see the Magellanic clouds (the nearest galaxies to the Milky Way).

If you're stuck in the Northern Hemisphere where we see mostly the outer parts of the Milky Way (the center always stays very close to the horizon) you need to find a really dark site, and it also needs to be quite clear. Even small amounts of clouds, through which you can see many bright stars, will hide the Milky Way. Also make sure that your eyes are well adjusted to the dark (stay outside in the dark for a while).

You can use something like Heaven's Above to figure out what time to best see the Milky Way. In the Northern Hemisphere it runs through Cygnus, Cassiopia, and the center is in Sagittarius.

This page was last updated June 27, 2015.

About the Author

Karen Masters

Karen Masters

Karen was a graduate student at Cornell from 2000-2005. She went on to work as a researcher in galaxy redshift surveys at Harvard University, and is now on the Faculty at the University of Portsmouth back in her home country of the UK. Her research lately has focused on using the morphology of galaxies to give clues to their formation and evolution. She is the Project Scientist for the Galaxy Zoo project.

Twitter:  @KarenLMasters
Website:  http://icg.port.ac.uk/~mastersk/

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