Quite a night in the middle of August

When was the last time you looked up?  Not looked up to see if it is raining.  Not looked up to see the spider crawling across your ceiling.  When was the last time you looked up to see the wonderous, vastness of space?  Sure, everyday we see the clouds passing and think nothing of it.  Those clouds range from less than a mile to about six miles above our heads.  On a clear night, we can watch shooting stars.  They aren’t actually stars, they are specs of dust burning up in our mesosphere.  They’re only 30 miles above our heads.  The moon provides light from its purch in the night sky.  It may seem like a long way but it is only about 250,000 miles from Earth.  Our giver of light, the sun, is 93,000,000 miles away.  Thats extremely close in space distance.  In fact, light travels at 186,000 miles per second.  If the sun went out as you read these words, it would take 8 minutes for the last bit of light to reach Earth.

This summer, on our family vacation, Jess, Dusty, Jocelyn, and I laid out under a crystal clear sky for a few hours.  The night was chilly but the show that the heavens put on was spectacular!  I saw meteorites like I have NEVER seen before.  Huge streaks of light burning across the night sky.  Some where so bright that they left a trail in the sky for seconds after they burnt up.  All of this took place on a backdrop of the universe.  The Milky Way was clearly visible that night.  As I laid there watching this celestial show, I began to think about how large we as people are compared to the universe.  My mind began to wander as I tried to conceptualize where we stand in relation to the vastness of space.  It is mind boggling!

My cousin, Tyler, posted this computer animation on Facebook shortly after vacation.  I thought it was fitting to the show that I had just witnessed.

Think about this.  There are about 6,973,738,433 people on the Earth.  On average, adult’s shoulder widths are between 14″ to 15″ in width.   The Earth has a diameter of about  7,926.41 mi.  Seems pretty large right?  The suns’ diameter is 865,000 miles.  The sun is the largest body in our solar system.  It is a star.  However it is only an average sized star.  In fact, it is on the smaller end of average.  The largest star in our galaxy (the Milky Way) is Antares.  It has a diameter of 603,680,000 miles.  That is about 800 times larger than the sun!

Sure the objects in our galaxy are large but it is how far apart they are that completely boggles my mind.  From one end to the other, the Milky Way is 100,000 to 120,000 light years across.  Remember, light travels at 186,000 miles per second! A light year is (obviously) how far light travels in a year.  There are about 30 galaxies that lie within a “local group” that includes the Milky Way.  This local group lies within 30 million light years of the Milky Way.  Oh, by the way, remember the sun is a star.  Well, there are 200 to 400 million stars in the Milky Way alone.  The light we see from stars has been traveling for millions to billions of years until it gleams in our eyes.  When you look at the stars, you are looking back in time.  You are looking at stars that may have exploded eons ago.  They might not even be there anymore!

The universe itself is about 93 billion light-years across.  It is also believed to have around 300 sextillion stars in it.  Each being millions to billions of light years apart.  To my puny human brain it is incomprehensible.

Next time there is a clear night, take a few minutes (or hours…its worth it) to look up and wonder.  Become a kid again.  Its free…