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Mapping the Milky Way Without Leaving Earth

by Brea Aamoth on December 3rd, 2015

A Look at Ourselves from the Outside
Mapping the Milky Way Without Leaving Earth

The Milky Way Galaxy is perhaps the most remarkable structure visible to our eyes in the night sky. But because our solar system lies inside the galaxy, we are only able to view the Milky Way from our vantage point on the inside. What would the Milky Way look like if we could see it from the outside? Join Dr. André-Nicolas Chené of Gemini Observatory to explore “Mapping the Milky Way Without Leaving Earth” at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center’s next Maunakea Skies program on December 18, 2015 at 7 pm.

It is only in the last century that astronomers learned that the universe is not just one big assembly of stars and nebulae, etc., but is actually made up of countless separate galaxies, some larger and some smaller than the Milky Way. While we can now study the structure of neighbor galaxies in some detail, it is not so easy to obtain a complete picture of our own Milky Way…a feat comparable to trying to look at one’s own face before mirrors were invented.

Making the challenge more difficult is the fact that dust, gas, and stars block the visible light from many parts of our galaxy, so while we can look out in some directions and view the more distant universe, in other directions we can see only our nearby neighborhood. Moreover, our view of the 2-dimensional image of the Milky Way projected on the sky tells us very little about its depth.

In this Maunakea Skies presentation, Dr. Chené will provide an up-to-date description of the Milky Way and introduce some of the powerful techniques that astronomers have developed to measure distances, characterize astronomical objects, and map structures in our galaxy. Using the data visualization tools in ‘Imiloa’s digital dome, he will take the audience through our galaxy’s spiral arms, to encounter stars, star clusters, and dust clouds, and use the light of the twinkling stars to tell us what (and where) they are.

Dr. André-Nicolas Chené

Dr. André-Nicolas Chené

Dr. André-Nicolas Chené is Assistant Scientist at the Gemini Observatory. He studied stellar physics and the atmospheres of massive stars at the Université de Montréal and worked as a research associate at the National Research Council of Canada in Victoria. He later held a joint postdoctoral position at the Universities of Concepcion and Valparaiso, both in Chile. His work and passion for astronomy have brought him to many beautiful places in the world, including Hawaiʻi, where he is currently pursuing research on the most massive stars and star clusters in the Milky Way. He is also an active science team member of the European Southern Observatory’s public survey of the central part of the Milky Way, which produced many of the images and figures which he will share in this talk.

The Maunakea Skies program will be hosted by ‘Imiloa Planetarium Technician, Emily Peavy, who will provide observational highlights of the current night sky over Hawai‘i, and point out prominent constellations and stars visible during this time of year.

‘Imiloa’s monthly Maunakea Skies planetarium presentations are held on the third Friday of each month. Cost is $8 for Individual, Dual, Kupuna and Family Members; $6 for Patron Members; Free for Silver, Gold, and Corporate Members. Non-member rate is $10. Pre-purchase tickets at the ‘Imiloa front desk or by phone at 969-9703.

‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i is located at 600 ‘Imiloa Place in Hilo, off Komohana and Nowelo Streets at the UH Hilo Science and Technology Park. For more information, go to, or call (808) 969-9703.


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