Do stars ever collide

10 facts about our Milky Way galaxy

Editor's note: An earlier version of the article stated that the Milky Way galaxy averages 100,000 light years across. The article was updated on May 28th to reflect the latest research on the size of our galaxy.

When we look up into the night sky, every star we see is part of the Milky Way - our home spiral galaxy. There is every extraterrestrial planet that has ever been discovered by humans, and probably billions more. (Worth reading: 10 facts about our Milky Way)

On dark nights the Milky Way stretches across the sky like a bright ribbon. And on particularly dark nights - in places that are spared from light pollution - so many bright stars shine in this band that you can even see the dark gas clouds in space that swallow the light. These clouds are so distinctive that the Aborigines in Australia recognized their shape as an emu. (Worth reading: The imposing path of the Milky Way in the Australian night sky)

Our galactic home is one of trillions of galaxies in the entire universe. Astronomers have been studying them for nearly a century - ever since Edwin Hubble discovered that Andromeda was not just a neighboring nebula, but a galaxy of its own. Yet humanity is still trying to unravel the secrets of its own galaxy and recognize its place in the great tapestry of the universe.

"In time, I'd like to see a movie about the Milky Way Gathering," says Jay Lockman of the Green Bank Observatory. He presented the latest observations on our galaxy at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Maryland.

Here we present you with some of the most exciting and bizarre questions we've had about the 13.6 billion year old galaxy we call home.