Where in Space Are We Headed?

See Which Way The Earth, Sun, and Milky Way Are Moving

January 29, 2019
Black Hole

The center of the Milky Way galaxy with the supermassive black hole located in the middle (26,000 light years from Earth). Image combines X-rays from Chandra X-Ray Observatory Telescope with infrared emission from the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA

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Want to be amazed? Look skyward on the next clear night. With your own eyes, you’ll be able to see which way you, Earth, the Sun, and the entire galaxy are moving in space.

You don’t need dark country skies for this. Being in a city is okay. But you do need an open swath of sky, so get out in the open somewhere, and do this at 9 p.m.

Nothing is Stationary in Space

When we look up at the night sky, we tend to think of it as a flat surface that the stars and planets move around on. But in reality, there’s a lot more 3D “space” than meets the eye. 

  1. Of course, we all know that planet Earth orbits around the Sun. 
  2. But the Sun is not stationary. The Sun and its solar system (including Earth) reside in an arm of the Milky Way galaxy. The Sun orbits the center of our huge Milky Way galaxy in an elliptical shape.
  3. Further, our Milky Way galaxy is not stationary either! It’s also revolving. We’ll get to this in a moment … 

Now get ready for something deep. This isn’t frivolous stuff!

First, Find Saturn—And the Center of our Galaxy (A Black Hole)

Okay, it’s 9 p.m. and your task is to look around and find the brightest star in the whole sky. Facing south, you’ll find that it is low in the sky and distinctly orange. This is Mars and you’ll see that it’s not horizon-scraping low, but floats only about ¼ of the way up the southern sky. Now you’ll use Mars to find two important landmarks, or maybe we should say “skymarks.”

Keep looking to the right of Mars until you come to the first bright-ish star. This is the planet Saturn, and if you own a backyard telescope, this is the finest target in the summer sky. But right now we’re not stopping at Saturn.

Instead, we’re learning an amazing thing: If you looked way, way beyond Saturn, you’ll find the center of the Milky Way. Yep, Saturn happens to be sitting in front of the center of our galaxy. That part of the sky where Saturn is, but lying 25,000 light years in the far distance, is the supermassive black hole around which our entire galaxy revolves.

That’s right, every star you can ever see revolves around that spot. Including our own Sun.

Now Find Vega—And The Direction We’re Headed

Okay, but if we’re circling that spot every quarter billion years, it’s reasonable to wonder which direction we’re going. The answer is easy these nights.

Go back to Mars and look high, high above it. And there, very nearly straight up, is a brilliant bluish star—the famous Vega.

Just to the left of Vega, well, that’s the direction Earth and Sun are zooming at 144 miles per second as we circle the center of our galaxy.

Wow. Everyone knows that our world circles around the Sun once a year. But that’s a relatively slow odyssey at just 18 miles per second. While we’re doing that, the Sun, taking us along for the ride, is zooming 144 miles per second in this direction to the left of Vega as we circle around the galactic core which is just below (and far behind) Saturn.

So, now you’ve found Saturn and the center of our Milky Way galaxy. And you’ve found Vega and the direction that the Earth and our entire solar system is heading.  

What did that take? Two minutes? And then all of a sudden you’re the only one of your friends who knows where we’re all going.

Let’s talk more about speed in space! How slow can we go? Read more about slow spinning planets and stars—and molasses.

About This Blog

Welcome to “This Week’s Amazing Sky,” the Almanac’s hub for everything stargazing and astronomy. Bob Berman, longtime and famous astronomer for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, will help bring alive the wonders of our universe. From the beautiful stars and planets to magical auroras and eclipses, he covers everything under the Sun (and Moon)! Bob, the world’s mostly widely read astronomer, also has a new weekly podcast, Astounding Universe

Reader Comments

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Research "Flat Earth"

Doesn't it strike you as odd how we can be spinning at 1000 mph, rotating around the sun at 66,000 mph as the sun supposedly hurtles through the vacuum of space at some astronomically blinding clip? Yet we always see the same stars and constellations over and over again and again. I have yet to see any shred of evidence of curvature on flat earth. I have seen many actual photographs with distances way too far that strongly suggest, "there is no curve."

I love the Farmers Almanac, packed with helpful information on a variety of topics. Please just research it for yourself, I laughed too when I heard it a couple years ago. Here is a good test, have you ever been in an earthquake and felt the earth move under your feet even just the slightest bit? If so let your right brain take the wheel for a bit and see how it will liberate you.

The 26000 year Great Year cycle

In Asrology there is the concept of the roughly 26000 year great year cycle which is divided into the roughly 2000 year zodiac ages. This is based on a rotational cycle of our sun and solar system about its twin star Esoteric spirituality, and specifically Hinduism, states that there is a time when our solar system is closest to the "Seat of Brahma," and humans are the most spiiritual. There is a time when we are furthest, and least spiritual, and this was the cause of the Dark Age, or Mideival period. From this viewpoint, all the increasingly rapid technological, sociopolotical, spiritual, and technological changes we are experiencing since the Renaissance are explained because we are now again moving back toward the"Seat of Brahma" from Pisces to Aquarius and from the Kali Yuga (age) to Dwapara Yuga. Where, or does, this model fit in with the model described here?

Thanks for this article.

I kept watching the bright orange star to my South over the past few days, now it is more S.East. I never realized our solar system as a whole moved in a direction itself. Does it move in a straight line or do we revolve? Does the black hole move in the same direction?

Earth spinning

Enjoyed the article, but am confused on the earth's rotation. Found Vega, but the article states now you know how we are spinning. Are we rotating counter-clockwise or clockwise. Just finding Vega really does tell me anything.

Earth's Rotation

To clarify: Earth, the Sun, and all the other planets in our solar system are moving through space—as is the solar system itself! Vega’s location in the sky is approximately the direction in space that our solar system is moving in.

Regarding Earth’s rotation: As viewed from directly above the North Pole, the Earth rotates counter clockwise. 

Earth's Rotation

Another way to say counter clockwise...backwards

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