The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy tells us that space is: “big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space, listen…”
Wolfram Alpha, that enigmatic fountain of factoids, seems to agree. It says that the observable Universe is 93 billion light years across, but it also hedges it’s bets by telling me it’s not sure whether the Universe is finite in infinite in size. The current size of the Universe is roughly 5.9 × 1015 times wider than the distance from the Earth to the Sun. That’s 5,900,000,000,000,000 as wide or, to put it another way, if we scale down distance from the Earth to the Sun to just 1mm then the Universe would fill out all the way to Pluto’s orbit; the chemist isn’t looking so far away now is it?
And speaking of the Sun, Sol to be precise, did you know that it’s mass is about 330,000 times that of the Earth and makes up over 98% of the mass in the entire Solar System? We live on a tiny pebble. Now imagine, if you will, that your house has just been flooded with ice cream and that you’re up to your neck in it’s sweet headache inducing creaminess, just one liter of the stuff is the Earth and the Beach Ball floating past is Jupiter, the rest is the Sun.
On the surface of the Sun, if you could survive such terrible conditions, you would weigh nearly 28 times as much as you do as you stroll about on Earth. Step out onto the surface from your futuristic spacecraft with it’s normal Earth gravity and your bones would crumble as your head races down to meet your feet at 100 km/h, you would barely have time to blink in the tenth of a second that it takes for your head to meet your feet. Even in your gravity cancelling super strong exoskeleton that is somehow managing to keep your vital organs from escaping through your rectum it would take you over 125 years to walk around the equator, in which time the Sun will have turned nearly 2000 times on it’s own axis. You better set off now, with tea breaks and snoozes you could be well over 200 years old before you manage to return to where you started.
On the upside you would have plenty of power to draw on for your suit, every second of every day of every year of the 4.57 billion years it’s been shining in the sky it has, on average, converted 4,000,000 tons of matter into energy. That’s one Sydney harbour full of matter every two minutes. Sure that sounds a lot, but it takes the Sun over 5500 years to consume a Pacific ocean sized amount of matter which is why during it’s long 4 billion year life the Sun has barely consumed three ten thousands of it’s total mass, a mere 100 Earths. This is just a fraction of a millimeter of the ice cream swirling around your living room. Despite it’s seemingly meager diet the Sun really is the battery that runs and runs, every second it generates enough energy to power all of planet Earth for over 800,000 years. One second of energy from the Sun could power a 60W bulb until the Universe’s last dying star fades away into nothingness. Don’t you wish you had a Dyson sphere?
So I salute the most fascinating object in the Solar System, I can truly understand why cultures of old worshiped it as a Deity. It’s size and power is almost beyond imagining, but hopefully after reading the above, it’s not quite out of reach.
I also salute the late, great Isaac Asimov who’s writing inspired and intrigued me as a child and teenager. His love of the Universe and all it’s mysteries stirred a fire in me that has lasted to this day.