The 'Milk' In Our Milky Way. How Our beloved 'Galaxy' Got its Name?

June 16, 2018
The diameter of our Milky Way is between 100,000 and 180,000 light years, and on clear nights, you can even spot the famous, moderately glowing arc, in its cosmic glory, and mystery. But the magnificent beauty of the Milky Way fades when compared with its unusual name, as it gives way to some of the wildest conjectures ever to have been formed. Some of us have already made peace with the fact that it is not a sin if we secretly crave for a milkshake, when we hear someone say 'milky way'. So why is it really called this? Let's dig in a little deeper, and find out.
Milky Way view in Night Sky in Black Rock Desert, Nevada

All things Roman: Being around 13.2 billion years old, and having inspired ancient literature, the Milky Way is now a part of our collective history, and a source of great wonder. Its Roman name, 'via Lactea', directly translates to 'road of milk'. Well, what's an empire without milk, right?

As 'Zeus' know it : 
Jacoppo Tintoretto's Painting

But that is not all. The Greeks too had a name for it, and yes, it also has a milky connection. The Greek name, 'galaxias kyklos', means 'milky circle'. Well, this indeed is a milky circle, as everything about our galaxy seems to be related to milk. Also, according to Greek mythology, when baby Heracles was suckling a sleeping Hera, after Zeus placed him upon her breasts, she woke up and pushed away the unknown infant. As a result, her milk sprayed the sky, and voila, the Milky Way was formed!

Post-Socrates, or the confirmation by Edwin Hubble in 1920 about the existence of other galaxies, or the recent scientific forays and the Hawkings-era, we have come a long way. But when it comes to our galactic address, we are still a bit wary of our Milky Way's unusual name. Let's give our galaxy a much needed break, because housing 200-400 billion stars, or 100 billion planets probably is a lot of pressure. Afterall, what's in a name, eh? Probably, not milk.

Post Written by - Lopamudra

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