Size of the Universe and the Solar System

About the size of the universe and the solar system as measured in distances of light-years, immensity of stars, galaxies and space.


So immense are the distances in the universe that astronomers have had to coin their own length units, such as the light-year, in order to cope with the problem arising out of these enormous quantities, an awkward surplus of zeroes. Each light-year--the distance traveled by light in a year--is 6 trillion mi. Yet our galaxy alone, with its billions of stars and glowing clouds of gas and dust, measures 20,000 light-years through its bulging center, and 100,000 light-years from side to side.

And this is only a small part of the universe. Outside the Milky Way galaxies are strung for billions of light-years.

--A Guide to Science. New York, Time-Life Books, 1971.

Stars in our galaxy are, on the average, 4 or 5 light-years apart. But this distance is dwarfed by the distances separating the galaxies in the vast oceans of space. The average distance between neighboring galaxies is about a million light-years. This means that the universe is mostly empty space. It has been calculated that there is 10 billion trillion times more empty space than stellar material in our galaxy. However, in the universe at large there is 10 million billion trillion times as much empty space as stellar material.

--The New Outline of Science by David Dietz. New York, Dodd, Mead and Co., 1972.

We live in the solar system, which is made up of the 9 planets, several thousands of much smaller planets or asteroids, untold millions of rocky particles or meteors, and a large number of flimsy rock-and-gas bodies called comets. In addition, some of the larger planets have moons or satellites revolving around them. The earth has one--our own moon--which is really very unimportant, and appears so glorious only because it is comparatively close to us. However, Jupiter, the largest of the planets, has no less than 12 moons.

--The Worlds Around Us by Patrick Moore. New York, Collier Books, 1956.

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