How do we know the Milky Way is a spiral? | The Story of the Milky Way

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Dr. Becky

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Shared June 12, 2019

Ever see people wearing those T-shirts with a spiral galaxy on saying "You are here" to mark the position of the Sun? The story of how we figured out the Milky Way was a spiral galaxy and where the Sun was in that big structure, starts all the way back in 1610 with Galileo Galilei...

You can pre-order my book ' Space: 10 Things You Should Know' as a hardback (UK only) or e-book (worldwide):

Sorry about the clicking noises throughout this video, my new Saturn necklace (which I LOVE) from Pull & Bear was too long and kept hitting my microphone:


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My sister made the frame in the background as a present when I passed my PhD. It's not a real certificate. It's a decorative frame in my office which I love. My sister does commissions if anyone else wants one: https://megansmethurstdesign.wordpres...

We're moving house soon so I'm hoping to get more prints to decorate my new office!


Here are links to the papers mentioned:

Kant (1755) -
Herschel (1785) -
Rosse (1850) -
Kapteyn (1904) -
Leavitt (1912 - published under her male supervisor's name Pickering) -
Curtis (1917) -
Shapley (1918) -
Hubble (1926) -
Trumpler (1930) -
Ewen & Purcell (1951) -
Christiansen & Hindman (1952) -
Rubin (1970) -
Georgelin & Georgelin (1976) -
Zaritsky (1989) -
Bahcall (1994) -
Benjamin (2005) -


Dr Becky Smethurst is an astrophysicist researching galaxies and supermassive black holes at Christ Church at the University of Oxford.