Why Do We Call Our Galaxy the Milky Way?

Image credit: 
ThinkStock

There are two questions that have haunted wannabe astronomers for decades: “Why is our galaxy called the Milky Way?” and “Does it have anything to do with the delicious candy bar?”

Long ago, the Romans named the galaxy “via lactea,” which translates to “road of milk.” The Romans named it via lactea precisely because it looks like a milky patch of sky above the Earth at night.

But, the Romans weren’t the first to name the galaxy. The Romans got the name from the Greeks, who called it galaxias kyklos, which translates into “milky circle.”

According to the Greek myth, Zeus brought his son Heracles home for Hera to breastfeed while she was sleeping. Hera did not like Heracles, mainly because the child was half-mortal and was the result of one of Zeus’ affairs. When Hera awoke, she quickly pushed Heracles away, which caused a few drops of milk to spill into the night sky.

Scientifically, the bright patch of light is the result of looking at a concentrated band of billions of different stars in our galaxy. When we look up at the night sky, we are viewing the galaxy on its side. This view creates the glowing arc of light that we know as the Milky Way galaxy.

Other cultures have different names for the Milky Way. In Germany, the galaxy is called “Milchstrasse” and Norwegians call the galaxy “Meleveien.”

Frank Mars invented the Milky Way candy bar after three years of research in 1923. It was the first filled candy bar. The flavor of the filling was inspired by the chocolate-malt milkshake that was popular at the time. When Frank Mars named the candy bar, he named it the Milky Way because of its milkshake-like filling.

More from mental_floss...

November 13, 2013 - 9:30am
webby
submit to reddit