How To See the Milky Way from Earth: All You Need To Know

October 05

14 min. to read

Stars are one of the most beautiful things that always attract the human eye. Those who have seen the Milky Way in the sky cannot forget this beautiful sight for long. It's a beautiful sight that will impress even ardent skeptics.

The pictures taken at night are breathtaking. They look gorgeous and mysterious, so many aspiring photographers try to take them as often as possible. The Milky Way at night looks especially beautiful. But sometimes it's hard to find it, especially for those who have never done it. Do you think you cannot see it if you have no experience? In this article, we'll prove that not only astronomers can find this cluster of stars, but we'll also tell you how to see the Milky Way.

What is the Milky Way?

In simple terms, the Milky Way in astronomy is a galaxy that includes our Solar System. It includes more than 100 million stars, each of which can be seen without special equipment, although it is not possible to see them in detail. Only the Andromeda Galaxy can be seen beyond it without the use of a telescope. Its distance from Earth exceeds 2.5 million light years. By the way, Andromeda is by far the largest galaxy today.

When people talk about seeing the Milky Way, they mean the brightest part of it, which is called the core or the galactic center. It`s a place where the brightest stars we can see in the night sky are located. At its heart is a supermassive black hole. Sounds scary, doesn't it? But it is what allows all the stars to be in their places and not get out of control.

Thanks to the research of modern scientists, we know why human eyes see the galaxy as a spiral arm. The reason is that the Earth is very far from its center. If we were closer, the shape would be perfect.

How to Locate the Milky Way?

Let's look at the Milky Way's location. No matter where you are, there is always a chance to see it. The only difference will be the clarity, and therefore the beauty of the view. Its location is not constant: it will change depending on the day you try to find it. When answering the question, “Can you see the Milky Way tonight?” keep in mind that it will go up 4 minutes earlier every 24 hours. The sky will change if you look at it at midnight last night and the night after.

There are also nuances related to your geographical location. If you look at the sky at a latitude above 50 degrees, you can't see anything. The summer solstice is also not the best way of seeing the Milky Way from Earth. The reason is that the sky will be too bright, so the display will not be clear.

Clear Sky

When it's a clear night outside, there's no problem. It is necessary to observe the density of the clouds. If there are many stars, their shadows will result in dark or gray patches. Optimally, if the clouds are no more than 10%. A clear summer night is the best time to see the Milky Way. 

There are special online resources using which you can find out what the weather will be in a particular region. Use them to estimate the cloud cover and to see if it's even worth it to watch the stars on your planned day. Beware of light pollution! It significantly reduces visibility and you may miss the moment when the Milky Way is visible.

Moonlight

If you see bright moonlight instead of dark skies, say goodbye to the idea of seeing and shooting the Milky Way. Because of it, you will only have the opportunity to look at the beautiful night scenery. 

How to Find the Milky Way at Night?

To enjoy the beauty of a billion stars at night, you can use two methods

  • download a special app for Android or iOS;

  • look for a cluster of stars on your own.

The first option is very simple. You just need to go to the official store for Android or iOS devices and find the appropriate application there. After you download it, point your smartphone at the sky. The app will show you where is the Milky Way tonight. If you've already found the galaxy, remember that the light coming from your smartphone may prevent you from enjoying the amazing view.

The second option is more suitable for inquisitive users. It makes you much more familiar with the celestial luminaries, and it also makes you independent of devices that can break down at any time.

How to find the Milky Way without Tools?

So, you have decided to find the Milky Way on your own. The first thing you will need to do is to find as dark a place as possible where not a single ray of light penetrates. When you have accomplished this, turn your attention to the sky. To begin viewing the Milky Way, you can orient yourself to two constellations: Scorpio and Sagittarius.

The first is very easy to identify by the star called Antares. It is in the center of the so-called body and has a pronounced orange color and a strong glow. The others are located around it across the sky, clouds of gas and dust are also found there. When you find the so-called scorpion head, move your gaze below. There is the core of the Milky Way.

The second option for where can you see the Milky Way is near the constellation of Sagittarius. Many claims that it has the shape of a centaur, but most users find it easier to find the so-called kettle in the sky. You can easily find the Milky Way by turning your gaze to its “spout”. It points directly to the nucleus.

When is the Milky Way Visible?

Did you know that scientists distinguish a separate season of the Milky Way? If you time is right and get in that season, it will be the best time when you can see the Milky Way. To summarize, this time lasts from February to October. However, there are factors that influence the choice of a season:

  • Earth's hemisphere;

  • The latitude where the user is located;

  • The lunar phase.

One of the fundamental factors is the hemisphere. The optimal moment to search for the Milky Way, for example, in Jamaica, and Ukraine will be significantly different. Remember, the best time to photograph the Milky Way in Northern Hemisphere is from March to September. If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, choose February through October (the core is best seen early in the month). 

Keep in mind that in most places on Earth it is impossible to see the Milky Way at all between November and January. Pictures taken during this time would be incredible luck. 

Moon Phases for Shooting Time

The beauty of a photo of the stargazing Milky Way directly depends on the right phase of the moon. Although it illuminates the earth and helps us find the right path, it is no help to us here. On the contrary, the brighter the moon, the harder it is to find the galaxy. Therefore, the best option is a new moon, when the celestial luminary is almost completely hidden.

If the moon is in the first quarter, you can take pictures after midnight, if in the third - before. A full moon will not let you know where is the Milky Way located at all. 

You can track the phase you want with a calendar or a special app. 

TOP 5 the Best Places to See the Milky Way

There are several places in the world from which the Milky Way is best observed. Below we will present five of them. Of course, you can always make your photos look prettier by using, for example, tools to change brightness and contrast. However, nothing can replace the beauty you can see from these locations.

Arches National Park

This place is at a very high altitude. It is also located away from the city, so the lights do not interfere with observation. Some photographers claim that at night it looks like another planet, so the pictures are perfect. This park was named the International Dark Sky Park because it is the only place in the United States where you can look at stars in a completely black sky.

La Palma

Where to see the Milky Way in Spain? Of course, in La Palma! The local government understands how well located this place is, so it has made a gift to photographers. The street lights here are placed to create only diffused light, so nothing prevents you from taking beautiful pictures or just observing the constellations. There are also 16 platforms where you can admire the night view. The altitude is 8,000 meters, and astronomers from all over the world come there to see the Milky Way.

The Dolomites

This place is considered the best in Europe. Although Italy is heavily lit, the local observatory offers the opportunity to admire the stars and take great pictures. The local hotel provides an interesting service, namely a telescope in every room. You can watch the stars while holding a glass of red wine in your hand. What could be more magnificent?

Mount Bromo

Visiting this mountain in Indonesia gives a whole new experience. Where else can you see the Milky Way from the Earth and take mesmerizing photos against a background of ash and smoke? This is possible because of the volcanoes here. And they are active, so come if you are not afraid of the extreme.

Wollemi

Wollemi is a park that is among the sites protected by UNESCO. The sky here is perfectly clear, so the view for the photographer is incredible. This place is far from the city lights, which is why it is incredibly appreciated by astronomers who want to observe the stars.

Conclusion

In this article, we gave answers to the most popular questions about the Milky Way. Pick the right time, grab your camera, and take impressive pictures of the galaxy at night!