8 steps to understanding the size of the universe
Let's take your mind to the gym right now. The exercises we'll be doing today will induce wonder, expand your vision, connect your imagination with reality, and increase your perspective. We will do this by looking at just how big our universe is, or put another way - how far reality goes.
1. The size of the Earth. On the highway, you probably drive around 75/mph when no cars are close and visibility is good. If you could drive in a complete circle around the Earth at this speed, it would take you 13.5 days of continuous driving... that's without any refueling, pee breaks, sleeping, or pit stops of any kind. Long road trip.
2. Distance to the moon. The average speed of a 747 (typical passenger jet) is 500/mph. If you could book a non-stop ticket to fly to the moon in a 747, the flight would take 20 days, or 477 hours. Flying to China ain't so bad now.
3. Distance to the Sun. Let's think of this in terms of familiar objects instead of with numbers. If the Earth were the size of a grain of couscous, the sun would be the size of a ping pong ball - and it would be 15 feet away.
4. Size of our solar system. In 1977 NASA launched the Voyager 1 spacecraft. It's purpose was to fly by numerous planets and then exit our solar system. The craft travels at 38,000/mph. At this speed it still took 35 years for it to leave the solar system (it did so in 2012)! If it could travel back to Earth from its current location at the speed of light, it would take 17 hours! It is the farthest reaching human made object in existence.
5. Our closest neighboring star. Aside from our Sun, the closest star to Earth is Alpha Centauri. It is located 25,660,320,000,000 miles away (25.66 trillion). It common terms, this is RFFAB (Really Fuckin Far Away Bro). So how long would it take us to travel there? Here's how we can imagine it: Let's say we could commute there in the fastest object humans have ever created. This would mean we would cruise in NASA's Juno spacecraft which reached a top speed of 87,000/mph. Even if we could travel at 87,000/mph on Juno, it would STILL take us 33,669 YEARS to get to Alpha Centauri!!
6. Size of the Milky Way galaxy. If our solar system were the size of a CD, the Milky Way would be the size of the United States!
7. Our closest neighboring galaxy. Our closest galactic neighbor is a small cloud galaxy called Canis Major, located 25,000 light away. To put this distance in perspective: when a beam of light leaves the Sun, it takes 8 minutes for that light to travel through space and reach the Earth. For our Sun's light to reach the closest galaxy it would take 25,000 years - mind you, it is traveling at 186,000 miles per SECOND. The Andromeda Galaxy gets a little more attention as being our closest neighbor because it is a spiral galaxy similar to our Milky Way, and also because it just looks way cooler than the Canis Major cloud. Fair enough. This galaxy is 2.5 million light years away from ours, which is considered just around the corner in astronomical distances.
8. Number of stars in the universe. Before we chew on this nugget let's understand how big a billion really is. How long does it take to count to 1 billion? If you were to count one number every second it would take you about 31 years to get to 1 billion! It is roughly estimated that the average galaxy has about 100 billion stars. It is also estimated that there are about 100 billion GALAXIES in the known universe. When we do the math we discover that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all of the Earth's beaches!
Please visualize these things and think about them when you look up at the sky. It's good for you mind, heart, and imagination.
Josh Giunta is an NYC based music producer and student of living.