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Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Milky Way Is Enormously Small

Today, one of my favorite astrophysicists, Ethan Siegel of Starts With A Bang, reminded his audience of just how big the Milky Way actually is.

We've come to the point where 1 billion stars have been identified by scientists.

1 billion, so very much... "keep in mind that this is still less than 1% of the stars in just one galaxy out of hundreds of billions in the Universe."

The Milky Way is said to have 200-400 billion stars.  It's such a meager number in comparison to it all; yet this fills such a ridiculously large span of space in comparison to our solar system, and so very much more in comparison to our world.

As I look at the night sky every night, (partly a result of nicotine) I am reminded of a trick on the human mind which reminds us that our scope of perception does not include these huge quantities.

42,  a memorable number if you're a fan of Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, comes to mind often when I look up at the moon.

Fold a standard piece of paper in half.  Again, in half. (2)  Again in half. (3)...
42 times, and the length, side by side, of the pieces of paper will span the distance from the Earth to the Moon.   (221,457 - 252,712 miles depending on orbit)

When I was younger, I never thought I'd find it so important to respect exponents.

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  1. Of course the width of the afore-mentioned halfed paper pile (you couldn't actually fold it - you'd have to cut and stack) would now be roughly the size of a virus, and certainly smaller than the wavelength of visible light.

  2. VERY cool, thank you Joffan. Nels Griffin on G+ happened to share a similar fact today:

    "I you took on Rubik's Cube for every possible unique configuration of colors and stacked them one on another, they would stretch to the sun and back...

    ...more than eight MILLION times!"

    Copy paste and follow if you're into Google Plus. He shares quality stuff.


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