from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun Any of numerous large-scale aggregates of stars, gas, and dust that constitute the universe, containing an average of 100 billion (1011) solar masses and ranging in diameter from 1,500 to 300,000 light-years.
  • noun The Milky Way.
  • noun An assembly of brilliant, glamorous, or distinguished persons or things.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun In astronomy, the Milky Way, a luminous band extending around the heavens.
  • noun Hence—2. Any assemblage of splendid, illustrious, or beautiful persons or things.
  • noun Same as galax, 2: a play upon that name.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun The Milky Way, that luminous tract, or belt, which is seen at night stretching across the heavens, and which is composed of innumerable stars, so distant and blended as to be distinguishable only with the telescope.
  • noun A very large collection of stars comparable in size to the Milky Way system, held together by gravitational force and separated from other such star systems by large distances of mostly empty space. Galaxies vary widely in shape and size, the most common nearby galaxies being over 70,000 light years in diameter and separated from each other by even larger distances. The number of stars in one galaxy varies, and may extend into the hundreds of billions.
  • noun A splendid or impressive assemblage of persons or things.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun a splendid assemblage (especially of famous people)
  • noun tufted evergreen perennial herb having spikes of tiny white flowers and glossy green round to heart-shaped leaves that become coppery to maroon or purplish in fall
  • noun (astronomy) a collection of star systems; any of the billions of systems each having many stars and nebulae and dust


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English galaxie, the Milky Way, from Late Latin galaxiās, from Greek, from gala, galakt-, milk; see melg- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Old French galaxie, from Latin galaxias, from Ancient Greek γαλαξίας (galaksias, "Milky Way"), from γάλα (gala, "milk").


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  • The Mount Palomar observatory telescope's reflector (some 16 feet in diameter, I believe) sees this much of the sky in its field of vision: hold out a poppy seed at arm's length up against the sky and that's it! If the telescope were to pan the heavens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it would take 1000 years to finally cover the night sky...and that's just the half it can see! Now, in that poppy-seed-field-of-view mostly what's seen are not stars, but GALAXIES, each containing untold billions of stars in its own right. Try to get your head around that!! This analogy, best as I remember, was presented in "First Light: the Search for the Edge of the Universe" by Richard Preston (1987). Highly recommended; a real cosmic thriller.

    Edit: Another fact from Preston's book: The disk of the full moon covers at least 12,000 galaxies.

    For more see moon.

    February 8, 2007