late 14c., loan-translation of Latin via lactea; see galaxy. Also in Middle English Milky Cercle. The ancients speculated on what it was; some guessed it was a vast assemblage of stars (Democrates, Pythagoras, even Ovid). Galileo, after inventing the telescope, reported that the whole of it was resolvable into stars. Old native names for it include Jacob's Ladder, the Way to St. James's, and Watling Street.
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