Is It Possible to Imagine the Number of Stars in the Universe?

You could talk until you're blue in the face, but you'd never be able to articulate the enormity of the universe. Speaking of speaking, the American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson provides this perspective: If you somehow counted all of the words and sounds ever uttered throughout human history, it still wouldn't come close to the number of stars in the universe. Talk about astronomical! And there are other ways of trying to conceptualize the vastness of the universe that will make you feel even more insignificant.

You could also consider that there are more stars than there are grains of sand in all of Earth's beaches and deserts, or that stars outnumber the number of seconds the Earth has existed. In essence, the universe is so big that we don't have a reference point for it. We can compare, but we always fall short. If such enormity is scary, remember what Tyson has to say about our connection to this big place: "The four most common chemically-active elements in the universe—hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen—are the four most common elements of life on Earth. We are not simply in the universe. The universe is in us."

For the record, although we have no way of knowing exactly how many stars the universe contains, astronomers have approximated this by multiplying the estimated number of stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way (400 billion), by the estimated number of galaxies in the universe (170 billion) to get one septillion stars, which is a 1 followed by twenty-four zeros.

Gazing into the universe:

  • By looking at how fast the universe is expanding, astronomers have calculated its age at approximately 13.7 billion years.

  • There is no universally (no pun intended) agreed-upon form to the universe. Some astronomers even think ours might be just one of many.

  • A small amount of the static that we used to see between channels on analog TV sets was caused by cosmic microwave background radiation, a sort of "afterglow" that resulted from the Big Bang.

More Info: Scientific American

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