Piiiiiigs...iiiin...spaaaaaaace!

Space, the final frontier. But only if you ignore the oceans.

Everyone knows space is big. But, I find it disappointing that most people have no concept of just how big space is.

Advertisement

We see movies and tv shows that make it seem like a trip across the galaxy would be nothing more than a leisurely road trip.

The sad truth is, that's not even close to being realistic.

Part of the problem is, we have no way of putting the universe into scale. We can't. It's too big. Even out solar system is almost too big.

But, I am going to try and help you visualize just how big space can be.

**note** the following is known as 'The Thousand Yard Experiment'. It was conceived back when Pluto was still considered a planet. I'm including it here because, even if you don't consider Pluto to be planetary, it is a part of the Kuiper belt, and will help demonstrate distance towards the end of the post.

Advertisement

First, we need to collect our supplies. We need the Sun and all the Planets. (scale is 1 inch = 100,000 miles)

  • The Sun: A ball, 8 inches in diamater. (a bowling ball is close enough)
  • Mercury: A pinhead. 0.03 inches in diamater
  • Venus: A peppercorn, 0.08 inches in diamater
  • Earth: A second peppercorn
  • Mars: Another pinhead
  • Jupiter: A pecan, 0.9 inches in diamater
  • Saturn: An Acorn, 0.7 inches in diamater
  • Uranus: A peanut, 0.3 inches in diamater
  • Neptune: Another peanut
  • Pluto: About 1/2 of a pinhead, 0.015 inches in diamater

To make it easier to see them, you should stick each 'planet' onto a note card. Otherwise, you may not ever find them once you place them.

Now, for starters, just compare the sizes of the peppercorn to the size of the sun. Then, shielding your eyes, look at the sun to determine the size.

Ok. Go outside. Yep, I'm going to make you go outside to do this. Actually, you have to go outside to do this.

Put the Sun down. (it's hot!) We're going to start pacing out where to put the rest of the planets. For the sake of our scale, 1 pace equals 1 yard, or 3 feet.

Starting at the sun, walk 10 paces and put down Mercury.

Walk another 9 paces and put down Venus.

Walk another 7 and put down Earth.

If you look back at the Sun, you might begin to have a sense of the size of space. Don't kid yourself, you still have no idea. Let's continue our walk.

Walk 14 paces and put down Mars.

Keep going another 95 paces and put down jupiter.

Walk a mere 117 paces, and place Saturn.

Saunter for 249 paces and place Uranus. (**snicker** I said 'anus'...)

Meander for another 281 paces and place Neptune.

Trudge the final 242 paces, and place Pluto.

Now, turn around and look at the Sun. You can't see it, can you?

That's because we've walked a total of 1,019 paces. That's more than 1/2 a mile. And, that's just to Pluto.

Advertisement

Now, remember when I said I was including Pluto to give our scale some meaning? Well, when astronomers measure distances in space, they use the Astronomical Unit, or AU. 1 AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun, or 93,000,000 miles.

Pluto is 40 AU away from Earth.

Many astronomers believe the solar system extends to the Opik-Oort Cloud. This could consists of the remnants of the original planetary disk that surrounded the Sun and formed all the planets.

The Oort Cloud is 50,000 AU, (about 1 light year), from Earth.

Just to the edge of the solar system. Not the Galaxy. The Galaxy is 100,000 light years across. (that's 50,000,000,000 AU, or 50 billion...). Just for the galaxy. The visible Universe is estimated at 100 billion light years across. And that's just the visible universe.

Advertisement

Need a little more perspective? Let's do some math. The recently retired space shuttle cruised around Earth at approximately 17,000 mph. At that pace, it would take 25 years to get to Pluto.

To get to the Oort Cloud? 31,225 years flying in the space shuttle. And, that's just to the edge of the solar system.

So, now you have a better idea of the size of the solar system. At least you have a way to put it into perspective. but when it comes to the size of the universe, the human mind just can't comprehend a distance that big, because we have no reference. If you do the 1,000 yard experiment, get in your car at Pluto and drive 761 miles. That will put you at the edge of the solar system. That's the equivalent of 1 light year. The visible universe is 100 billion light years across. The distance from where you set the Sun down to where you are now, 761 miles away, is 1/1,000,000,000th of 1% of the size of the Universe. (Note: it would take the space shuttle 3.122*10^15 years to fly that far. (3,122,000,000,000,000), (3.12 Quadrillion)) ***Edited to fix the exponent*** (thanks 2noob2banoob0

Advertisement

Next time you start feeling all full of yourself, remember this. We are all nothing but insignificant specs in the universe.