At one of the recent Heart for Ipswich Tuesday prayer meetings the question arose “How many stars are there in the Universe?” OK, this does seem somewhat obscure, but there was a link at the time.
Anyway, this question motivated me to do a little research into the size of the amazing universe that we live in (having also just joined the U3A astronomy group).
Let’s start with some smaller numbers. If the earth was a marble on the goal line of a football pitch, then the sun (our own star) would be a 40 inch beach ball at the other end, and Pluto would be a pinhead about 3 miles away.
Now take another scale model. If the sun was a marble in the middle of a football field then the earth would be a grain of sand four feet away, Pluto would be a speck of dust in the goalmouth, and Proxima Centauri (the next nearest star) would be a pea 200 miles away. And in between all these bodies…? Well, just emptiness – basically the Universe is mostly empty space.
OK so that gets us to the next star, but if you look at the night sky with just the naked eye you can see several thousand, and with a good pair of binoculars you can see up to about 200,000. A small telescope will reveal about 15 million, and large observatories can see billions.
So how many stars are there? Well apparently our galaxy, the Milky Way, is pretty typical and contains up to 400 billion. Then there are probably more than 170 billion galaxies in the Universe, stretching across a region of something like 13.8 billion light years away from us. Incidentally, when we look into the sky we are looking back in time. Light takes 8 minutes to get here from the sun, 4 years from Proxima Centauri and 2.5 million years from the next big galaxy beyond the Milky Way.
Putting all that together, astronomers arrive at a figure of something like 10 to the power of 24 stars; that is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars – give or take a few billion. And, of course, many more billions of planets circling the stars; not forgetting meteors, comets, black holes, dark matter and all the other things still being discovered.
It should be added that this is just our best estimate at the moment, drawn from the observable Universe, a bubble of space 47 billion years in all directions, which is how long light has taken to reach us since the Big Bang. There could be more, and some have even suggested that the Universe is infinite.
Mind blowing? Of course! But then surely the greatness of our God is mind blowing.
J B Phillips once wrote a book called ‘Your God is Too Small’, in which he argued that we tend to put God into the perspective of our own little world, and fail to see just how small we are. Our God is so great that He not only created the Universe, but knows every detail about us, and even more amazingly, cares for us. Perhaps we can say with the psalmist:-
“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers
the moon and the stars you set in place
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?”
Now watch this video for a trip to the edge of the Universe and back in 6 minutes:
Top Photo: The image is from the European Space Agency. It is listed as the LH 95 star forming region of the Large Magellanic Cloud. The image was taken using the Hubble Space Telescope.
Alan Fisher is a retired electrical engineer and a member of St Matthew’s Church in Ipswich. He has been involved in several cross-church projects over the years and is currently part of the Heart for Ipswich team. He was previously editor of Network Norwich’s sister website, Network Ipswich, which comes under the auspices of Heart for Ipswich.