This image may look like a cloudy sunset reflected over the ocean — it's actually a shot of the Milky Way, as seen by the ESA's Planck Satellite. The unique perspective reveals previously unseen characteristics of our galaxy. And it may provide crucial insights into how the universe was born.
We're located inside the Milky Way, so it's not easy for astronomers to visualize what it looks like. Over the past few years, however, astronomers have gained an enhanced sense of its appearance, our location within it, and its place in the cosmos. For example, we know it's a spiral galaxy with a peanut-shaped core and that we're located in a large and prominent spiral branch called the Local Arm. We've also created a map from its infrared signature. Pulling back a bit, astronomers also know that the Milky Way is encircled by the Magellanic Stream and that it's situated among the so-called Council of Giants.