Where does the name "Milky Way" come from? (Beginner)

Where does the naming Milky Way for our Galaxy come from? Do you know who introduced this wording and why?

The name Milky Way refers to the milky patch of sky which rings the Earth. You may have seen it if you live outside of a big city, it looks almost like very tenuous clouds to the naked eye. It was named in prehistory before anyone really knew what it was, so just called the "Milky Way" for its appearance. It wasn't until Gallileo looked at an area of it with his telescope in the 1600s that it was realised that the Milky Way was made up of thousands of individual stars, and it was even later that it was realised that what we are looking at is an edge on view of our own galaxy, one of billions in the universe.

An interesting fact related to this is that the word galaxy actually comes from the Greek word, galactos for milk! The Latin version of Milky Way is Via Lactea, with "Via" meaning "Way" or "Road" and "Lactea" meaning "Milk".

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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