How big is the universe? Have you ever wondered about that? When you gaze up at the stars in the night sky, do you ever think about the vastness of the world we live in?
Consider for a moment some of the following astronomical facts. Disclaimer: If you’re not into “mind-blowing” experiences, you may not want to read any further, but if you’re up for some deep contemplation I believe you’ll find this as fascinating as I do.
Let’s start with the sun, at the center of our solar system. When we see the sun, we’re viewing an object 93 million miles away. If you were able to book a flight to the sun, it would take a commercial jet flying at 550 mph about 19 years to get you there. I think that’s a non-stop flight. If you’d prefer to drive the interstellar highway, at 60 mph you’d need 177 years to do it – not counting stops for restrooms or fill-ups.
The sun is amazingly huge. You thought Earth was large, with a diameter of 7,917.5 miles. Compare that to the nearly 865,000 miles of the sun! You could line up 109 Earths across the face of the sun. Another way of thinking about it is that if the sun were the size of a beach ball, Earth would be the size of a pea, and you could put a million of them inside.
But the sun is just an average-sized star among the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy. One of those stars is named Betelguese (yes, pronounced “Beetlejuice”), a red supergiant some 700 times bigger than the sun and about 14,000 times brighter – or much more. That star, by the way, is like the 9th brightest in our galaxy and is part of the Orion constellation. If you see it while star-gazing, you’re peering 640 light years into space.
That’s beyond my capacity to understand, but one astronomer has noted that if the sun were the size of a BB, the star Betelguese would be the size of a Toyota Camry and located about 12,500 miles away.
Now, if you’re still tracking and your mind’s not blown yet, let’s take another step. We haven’t even begun to explore the reaches of our Milky Way galaxy, which stretches about 100,000 light years in diameter and bulges about 1,000 light years thick, looking like a disc. The Milky Way contains some 100-400 billion stars, maybe more. And most experts believe each star has at least one planet, which would mean hundreds of billions of planets in our galaxy, beyond the 8 or 9 (poor Pluto!) in our solar system.
And here’s more just to keep the wheels turning – our galaxy is only one of an estimated 100 billion galaxies in our universe! Think about that for a while. I say, “Wow!”
I’m sharing all this not to help you answer a couple of questions on Jeopardy!, but to join together in singing the praises of the One who masterminded, purposed, and created all things. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19.1). What an amazingly mighty, glorious God we serve!