Number of Stars in the Milky Way

As it is known by scientists today, there are around 200 billion galaxies in the universe. Each of these galaxies is comprised of billions of stars, systems and planets. The Milky Way galaxy is the galaxy that our solar system and subsequently planet Earth is a part of. The Milky Way is a spiral shaped galaxy. The history of its name can be traced back to the ancient observations and mythology of the Greeks. When observed in a dark sky setting, the plane of the Milky Way shows light in the night sky, for this reason the Greeks based the original name on the work “Kiklios Galaxios” which meant milky circle. Greek legend described the Milky Way as milk spilled by Zeus and Hera, while trying to feed their young child Heracles. The Milky Way has a diameter of 120,000 light years and is believed to be around 14 billion years old.

The Milky Way Galaxy, though the closest to scientist, is still very vast, which initially made estimations about the number of stars in the galaxy slightly difficult. With the naked eye, one can see a few thousand stars. This number alone is fairly large, when considering that the sun is only one star in the Milky Way Galaxy. Even with the assistance of technology however, only 5,800 to 8,000 stars are visible. While one might think that this is a large percentage of the stars in the galaxy, it actually is just a small fraction. The reason for our very limited ability to see the stars in our galaxy stems from the fact that earth lies on one side of the galaxy, 30 billion light years from the center. This means that there is a very large percentage of the galaxy that we will never see. To try and determine how many stars are in the galaxy, a good deal of estimation is necessary. Early conservative estimates of the number of stars in the galaxy have been made by looking at the total mass of the galaxy, which is estimated to be between 750 billion to 1 trillion solar masses. It is through this figure and with the help of formulas based on orbits and masses, that it is estimated that there are 100 million stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Some scientists do not agree with this conservative estimate however; they believe that the number of stars in the galaxy could be substantially higher. Some estimates not only double, but quadruple the estimated number of stars in the galaxy. While the exact number of stars is unknown, the very safe estimate is anywhere between 100 billion and 400 billion stars.