, Via Lactea, or Galaxy, a broad track or path, encompassing the whole heavens, distinguishable by its white appearance, whence it obtains the name. It extends itself in some parts by a double path, but for the most part it is single. Its course lies through the constellations Cassiopeia, Cygnus, Aquila, Perseus, Andromeda, part of Ophiucus and Gemini, in the northern hemisphere; and in the southern, it takes in part of Scorpio, Sagittarius, Centaurus, the Argonavis, and the Ara. There are some traces of the same kind of light about the south pole, but they are small in comparison of this: these are called by some, luminous spaces, and Magellanic clouds; but they seem to be of the same kind with the Milky way.

The Milky way has been ascribed to various causes. The Ancients fabled, that it proceeded from a stream of milk, spilt from the breast of Juno, when she pushed away the infant Hercules, whom Jupiter laid to her breast to render him immortal. Some again, as Aristotle, &c, imagined that this path consisted only of a certain exhalation hanging in the air; while Metrodorus, and some Pythagoreans, thought the sun had once gone in this track, instead of the ecliptic; and consequently that its whiteness proceeds from the remains of his light. But it is now well known, by the help of telescopes, that this track in the heavens consists of an immense multitude of stars, seemingly very close together, whose mingled light gives this appearance of whiteness; by Milton beautifully described as a path “powdered with stars.”

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Entry taken from A Mathematical and Philosophical Dictionary, by Charles Hutton, 1796.

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