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  • Writer's pictureJames Paulson

The Scale of Space

When we look up at the sky, we think that space is a very busy place because we see so many stars. When we look more closely, we see all kinds of objects such as nebula, globular clusters and even galaxies. Yet surprisingly space is largely empty and the distances between things is immense.

Consider this scale, where our solar system is reduced to the size of a quarter. Our solar system is immense, it is 2 light years across, nearly 12 trillion miles. Yet if we could make it the size of a quarter, the next nearest star, which would be its own solar system, would be almost 200 meters away, about 2 football fields. And the Milky Way galaxy would be the size of the United States. Within that space would be about 100 to 400 billion quarters. Remember that Each of those quarters represents an entire solar system.

Yet the Milky Way is only one galaxy among billions of galaxies in the visible universe. We have to figure out a way to scale that out so that you can fit that in. As fast as Voyager 2 is moving, some 35,000 km/hr, it has barely left the space of one of those quarters flying for 45 years now. It won’t reach the next star system for 45,000 years.

Space is a big place for real, and it is very empty.

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