The Milky Way is our home galaxy, similar in form to those shown above. Our Sun is found far out in one of the spiral arms of our galaxy. We think that our galaxy looks more like the galaxy on the left, M81, than the galaxy on the right, M101. Star formation is more active in the spiral arms of M101 than in the arms of M81. Our galaxy is not one of the most active star forming galaxies either.
These galaxies are seen from above the plane of the galaxy. Since we live in a spiral arm in the plane of the Milky Way, we are not able to have this great view of our own galaxy. Instead we must look through all of the dust and gas, as well as stars that also lie in the plane of the Milky Way. A better look at the structure of our galaxy can be had by looking at infrared wavelengths.
This image show us what our galaxy looks like when looked at from the IRAS satellite at infrared wavelengths. The dust in the plane of the galaxy is heated by the stars that also lie there; therefore it radiates strongly in the infrared as do the bright giant stars that are also in the plane of the galaxy. The more nearby dwarf stars do not show up strongly in this picture and therefore do not interfere with our overall view of the Milky Way.