Over the Christmas and New Years holidays, I spent a lot of time reading about space. I used to be heavy into astronomy when I was young but I felt I needed to do some brushing up before writing Far Reach. What I learned forced me to reconsider my perspectives and I figured I’d share a bit of that with some visual aids from the Bad Astronomer :
The standard measurement in astronomy is the Light Year. This is defined as the distance light travels in a vacuum in one Earth year. That distance, in more measurable terms, is 9,460,730,472,580.8 kilometers (or 5,878,625,373,183.608 miles). All those commas mean that number is in the Trillions by the way.
So let’s put that into some perspective :
It takes light from the Sun about 8.3 minutes to reach the Earth, 93 million miles away. Light seen tonight from Proxima Centauri, the nearest sun aside from our own Sun, left 4.2 years ago. I was born 36 years ago, roughly the same time light from Alpha Bootis started its trip toward Earth. And on a slightly larger scale, the galactic center of the Milky Way is just around the corner at a mere 27,000 light years (give or take a few thousand).
Let’s jump out a bit more and leave our galaxy. The galaxy NGC 1345, pictured below, is about 85,000,000 light years away. The dinosaurs stomping around on Earth at the time probably didn’t appreciate that smudge of light in the sky.
Go ahead and click on the picture to enlarge and take a look. You’ll probably notice a few other galaxies. Those are even further away. Hundreds of millions, even billions of light years distant. The light from some of these galaxies may have left before the Earth even finished cooling down. And take a look at this – the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (pictured below) shows galaxies that are 13 billion years old. The universe itself is thought to be right around 14 – 15 billion.
And a final perspective – one of the greatest endeavors of Mankind was to land on the Moon.
A mere 1.3 light seconds away.
So yeah. Space is big.