Top 10 Mind Blowing Facts of Astronomy
Astronomy is the “science of everything”, and gaining a perspective on the universe—and how we fit into it—is one of the best ways to appreciate our connectedness and oneness.
But astronomy is also super cool and mind-blowing. Consider these facts:
1. The Earth rotates 1,000 miles per hour (MPH) at the equator and 733 MPH at 45 degrees latitude. The rotation is fastest at the equator for the same reason the outer edge of a phonograph record travels a larger circumference in the same amount of time as the inner part of the record. The faster rotation is why most space launch centers are as close to the equator as possible—the faster spin rate gives rockets an extra boost compared to higher latitudes.
2. The Earth orbits around the Sun at 67,000 MPH. For perspective, a bullet travels at 1,700 MPH. In other words, our entire planet is travelling around the Sun 39 times faster than a rifle bullet. Yet, cosmic speeds keep increasing as we zoom out to the galactic level:
3. The Sun orbits around the Milky Way Galaxy at 136 miles per second, or 492,000 MPH. Even at this speed, it will take 230 million years to complete one rotation of the Milky Way, which is 100,000 light years (LY) across.
4. The Milky Way galaxy is travelling through interstellar space at 1.3 million MPH!
5. Light travels 670 million miles per hour (186,282 miles per second, or 7 1/2 laps around the earth each second), which equals 5.88 trillion miles in a LY.
6. At its current speed of 37,282 MPH, the Voyager 1 spacecraft would take 19,000 years to arrive at the nearest star (Proxima Centauri) at 4.2 LY away.
7. The farthest thing you can see with your eye is Andromeda Galaxy at 2.53 million LY.
8. The Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxy are hurtling towards each other at 70 miles per second and will merge in four billion years. Yet, this merger will be largely peaceful given the enormous distance in between the stars. The merger will lead to the premature aging of the unified galaxy due to more hydrogen gas collapsing into stars at an accelerated pace.
9. Many people know that time slows down as you move closer to the speed of light, but not everyone realizes that distances also shrink. This isn’t just theoretical mumbo jumbo; it has real applications. For example, the electrons in old-fashioned televisions traveled 20-30% of the speed of light, in effect “shrinking” the tube. Without special magnets to guide the electrons to the correct part of the screen, the image would be blurry.
10. Although there is a wide variance in the estimated number of stars in the Milky Way (100-400 billion), even the lower range is an enormous number. The same variability holds true for the estimated number of galaxies in the universe: from at least 200 billion up to two trillion.
11. The coldest observed spot in the solar system (at -400 degrees F) is not at remote Pluto as one might suspect; the coldest spot is found nearby among the permanently shadowed craters in our moon’s south pole.