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Milky Way's Disappearing Act from Washington / Oregon Coast

Published 05/09/21 at 6:45 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Milky Way's Disappearing Act from Washington / Oregon Coast

(Manzanita, Oregon) – If you're wondering where is the Milky Way these days – er, nights – there's good reason. It's largely gone from Oregon and Washington skies, including those on the coastlines of both states. (Above: weird neon glow, ocean mists and the stars at Lincoln City)

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Looking up from the beaches of the Oregon coast or Washington coast will yield the surprising sight that the rest of the galaxy has vanished, leaving plenty of stars but not that captivating stretch of hazy, cosmic mass. That, according to OMSI astronomer Jim Todd, is because May always sees the disk of our Milky Way galaxy lying flat, nearly parallel to the plane of your horizon.

“On May evenings before midnight, the equator of the Milky Way circles the rim of the horizon, with the North Galactic Pole standing high overhead in the constellation Coma Berenices, or Berenice's Hair,” Todd said. “In this direction, where the glare and the dust of the Milky Way are minimal, the sky beckons you to look at the deep-sky objects beyond the Milky Way.”

Todd said if you're looking at it from the North Galactic Pole (a way of viewing the galaxy through imaginary coordinate-like lines), the Sun and the solar system essentially revolve clockwise around the center of our Milky Way galaxy – or the nucleus, as Todd called it.

“The galactic plane is the plane in which the majority of a disk-shaped galaxy's mass lies,” Todd said. “The directions perpendicular to the galactic plane point to the galactic poles. Most often, in actual usage, the terms 'galactic plane' and 'galactic poles' are used to refer specifically to the plane and poles of the Milky Way, which is the galaxy in which the Earth is located.”

So far now, the Milky Way is skirting the rim of our horizon on May nights, which means you could theoretically spot more of it looking to the edge of the ocean from the Oregon and Washington coast after dark, depending where it winds up.

Todd said all this indicative of the year being about halfway between the March equinox and June solstice.


The Milky Way above Cannon Beach: this shot, taken during late summer, shows the galaxy looming above the northern Oregon coast in full splendor. MORE PHOTOS BELOW, including star map

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Cape Foulweather

Cannon Beach with no Milky Way

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