Do You Realize Just How Far Away the Stars in the Sky Are?

Filed in Living by on March 30, 2017 0 Comments

When Elaine and I were home in Tinley Park this past December it was freezing cold, and with a puppy I spent a lot of time standing outside waiting for him to go potty. Apparently Anderson hadn’t gotten the memo that daddy doesn’t like to stand outside in the cold, so he would frolic in the snow, chew on ice, and generally do everything but his business.

So rather than admonish him to go potty for the zillionth time, at night I would often just stare up at the stars in the clear, moonlit sky.

I remembered from high school that the brightest star in the nighttime sky is the North Star, and it is fairly easy to find. Then I looked for smaller and smaller stars, some so faint as to be just barely visible to the naked eye. Of course, if I had a telescope, I could have seen many more stars that are even further away.

This piqued my curiosity, so I googled “North Star” to see just how far away from the earth it is. As you probably already know, distances like this are measured in light years, which is the distance light would travel in a year. I also remember from science class that light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles per second, so a light year is 186,000 miles multiplied by the number of seconds in a year! That’s awfully damn far away. And as it turns out, the North Star is an incredible 434 light years away from earth.

So then I wondered how far away the farthest star is which is still visible to the naked eye (as I stand outside and Anderson is still not going potty!). Google reported that it is a star in the constellation Cassiopeia, which is 15,300 light years away.

If it is 15,300 light years away, since the light reflecting off of it is what you see, that means you are observing it as it appeared 15,300 years ago. Who knows what it might look like today, or if it still even exists?

Maybe I’m a geek, but I found this fascinating, and in fact, humbling. It gives you a sense of the incredibly grand scale of our universe.

I’m going to guess that, given this information, people would be divided into two camps based on their spiritual beliefs. Those like me that believe there is a God will be even more sure of it based on the impossible-to-fathom vastness of our universe. And those that rely on science for all of their answers will likely continue to believe that we will eventually be able to “figure everything out on our own,” and be just as firm in their position.

Yet even those people must feel at least a little bit in awe, don’t you think?

About the Author ()

TIM MCINTYRE retired in 2004 from his position as president of Applied Systems after facilitating a successful sale of the company. At only forty-six years old, he made the unusual decision to fully retire to pursue other interests and simply enjoy free time. As a hard-driving Type A personality, this turned out to be a significant challenge for the Notre Dame and University of Chicago-educated MBA, CPA, and Certified Cash Manager.

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