Neighborhoods and Tourist Attractions in the Milky Way

by Jeanette Cain

More articles in Space Tourism

The Milky Way is home to many stars in the nightsky. The Orion complex is considered to be a great tourist attraction in the future. Earth's local neighborhood covers about 5,000 light-years around the Sun. The neighborhood includes the constellations of Orion, the Southern Cross and Taurus.

The Local Bubble has the Sun sitting in a barrel-shaped region, which is 300 light years across, believed to be the remains of a supernova. The bubble contains gas with a low density, but the high temperatures keep the bubble inflated.

The closet planetary nebula to the Sun is the Helix Nebula, which is 450 light-years away. It covers approximately half the area of the full Moon in the sky, and is difficult to spot, but its helix shape may be the result of a red giant feeding off the outer layers on two occasions.

The most colorful is the star-forming complex known as Rho Ophiuchi. Its magenta coloring is from gas that was hit with ultraviolet radiation from younger stars. The blue coloring is the result of scattered light rays from dust grains. It is believed that the birth of stars is carried on behind a dark molecular cloud in the complex.

The North American Nebula received its name from its similar features of the North American continent, causing it to be almost a mirror image. Its neighbor, the Pelican Nebula, is the visible portions of a glowing nebula that is 100 light-years across. This is six times larger than the Orion Nebula.

The Hyades Cluster is the head of Taurus the Bull. Taurus' eye is the large red giant star known as Aldebaran. Hyades is only 150 light-years away from Earth and its nearest star cluster, lying within the center of a star supercluster that encloses the Sun.

The Bug Nebula is a cloud of gas that is expanding at 400 km per second. The Coalsack, which is next to the Southern Cross, looks like a hole in the sky. The Coalsack is a molecular cloud that is 60 light-years across. The Vela Pulsar is the spinning, but collapsed, core of a star that exploded about 12,000 years ago. Camelopardalis OB1 is a group of young stars like the stars in Lacerta OB1. The 100 million blue-white stars make-up the Pleiades Cluster, which is approximately 78 million years old.

Monoceros R2 has a star that is 10,000 times brighter than our Sun. It can only be viewed through infrared telescopes since it is hidden by dust. Barnard's Loop is made from the remains of a supernova, which is about 300 light-years across. The Great Rift is in Cygnus, and is a molecular cloud, which shows as a dark image against the lighter stars of the Milky Way.

If humans intend to travel to these distant stars, they need to know and understand all aspects of the "Local Neighborhood's Tourist Attractions." Who are our neighbors? Are they always in the form of a human, or do they come in many forms with many differing make-ups? Do you know your neighbors?


1. Couper, Heather and Nigel Henbest. Space Encyclopedia DK Publishing, Inc.: NY 1999

2. Editors. Secrets of the Universe. International Master Publishing: US. 1999