I’m sitting here having my yearly battle with I assume, bronchitis. Something about this time of year I just get an upper respiratory issue that requires a trip to the Dr. and I get my standard issue blister pack of steroids to minimize the inflammation. My appointment is at 1:30. So if you hear me hacking and wheezing anytime through this post you now know why.
I happened across this story recently where astronomers have the determined mass of our galaxy the Milky Way. They used observations of a common target of my personal telescopes, globular clusters, in their determination of the values. Only they were using slightly better telescopes! They have the luxury of using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite. Yep, slightly better than mine.
So of what use is it to know the mass of our galaxy anyway? Well they can use this information to better understand how galaxies orbit each other and how this mass and it’s direct correlation to gravity, determines the interplay of galactic interactions and mergers. I’m not going to go into great detail on the specifics here, others have done that job quite well for me. My goal is the numbers and I’ll get there in a minute. Here is the story from NASA:
And here is a great write up in easy to understand English from a fantastic astronomy science writer Phil Plait. It is worth a visit if nothing else to see the most recent galactic map of the Milky Way and our place in it:
Now the the numbers. They determined the mass of our galaxy to be 1.5 trillion solar masses. A Google search shows a solar mass is a standard astronomical measurement equal to 4,400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 lbs. Or a simpler representation of 4.4 nonillion lbs. Yeah, I’ve never heard of a nonillion either 🙂
Or for you US measurement deficient chaps (Mak) 2,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg. Or 2 nonillion kg.
That is some big damn numbers!
Now to multiply that by 1.5 trillion, we get 6,600,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 lbs. Or 6.6 Tredecillion lbs. The measurement of the mass of our galaxy. And no, I’ve never heard of a Tredecillion either!
Or again for US measurement deficient folks, 3,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg. Or 3 Tredecillion kg.
I have to admit my eyes glaze over and my mind seeks refuge in a pleasant daydream anytime I see that many zeroes in one place. It is just so difficult to imagine the enormity of numbers like these. I only wish all of our bank accounts had half as many zeroes and a 10 in front of them!
My thanks to this site for having the calculator to represent all of those zeroes:
Re “An interesting side note, that first set of numbers is so huge that even by multiplying them by 1.5 trillion, it did not affect the number of zeroes. Boom, mind blown.”
Multiplying anything by a trillion should add twelve zeros … regardless of the size of the numbers … unless you are dealing with infinities.
Thank you Steve! I apparently had a decimal point in my 1.5 trillion. It did make for more zeroes. Will soon be fixed. I just knew if I made an error someone would come along and point it out. 😉
I feel very attacked.
I hope you are sitting away from the keyboard, we don’t want to catch what you got.
Those numbers are so big, they should just say the Milky way ways 0kg.
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Attacked? I’d never attack a Mak. Though I have heard of a Big Mac Attack. 🙂
I hope you picked up on the new edited numbers. Mr. Ruis kindly pointed out my math error. I blaming it on, I’m sick dammit!
I did and those zeros are so many my grandmother can’t count them
To be fair I had to break out the abacus to get there myself 😉
You missed a Tredecillion zero. Can you convert this to ounces for me? I’d really like to know how many shot glasses I need
It is certainly possible I missed one of the 42 zeroes. I’ve already messed up the math once today 🙂 If I could use an analogy here, I never was a souped up V8, more akin to an old inline 6 that needs points and has some water in the gas. And that’s on a good day!
Just got back from the Dr. I got a steriod shot in the backside (so I got to show my ass today) and some of the good old fashioned stuff you can’t buy over the counter anymore to dry me out.
1 Tredecillion lbs. x’d by 16 (ounces) would give you 16,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 ounces. Then we can do it 5.6 more times So you can start with that many shotglasses. Can I be there to help with the liquor disposal? Also we should probably get started ASAP, (assuming I can help.) I fear it might take a while.
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I insist you assist. I think thish may take at leasht 2 good weekend fishing tripsh
I really like the way you guys fish! Count me in 🙂
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“Those numbers are so big..” That’s what she said.
Ya know I can’t ever remember a gal saying “oooh baby count to me” 😉
That’s what she said.
You’re kidding, right? There is no such thing as a “Milky Way” … and those numbers? Pshaw! “God” would never make anything that big to confuse us mere mortals.
I’m sure glad I know my clientele, else I’d have to go on a lengthy internet tirade 🙂
But great performance! I’d rank that a 4.5 out of 5 on the Redneck, Hillbilly, Jeebus Loving, Backwoods, Sibling Loving, Hellfire Preaching, Boozin it up, Jackass scale. 😉
I’m pleased that I did so well! 😍
It’s interesting. I think we don’t even have to get this big for most humans to just sort of shut off and saying anything above million even gets pretty hard to fathom. I think this is part of the reason most people are content with their 6,000 year earth, happily ignoring evolution which involves 60-70 million species evolving over several billion years. People can manipulated into any political stance by the mention of a big sounding number of dollars. People don’t really fathom how bad their chances of winning the lottery actually are. There are plenty of examples. The macro scale of the universe is unfathomably large. The one number that blows me away is learning about how much more nothing there is than something. A book I read had some great analogies, but I’m having trouble remembering which book that was (old age) but here it is in essence:
It so happens that as far as we can tell, the average mass-energy density of the universe is exactly the critical density. In other words, the “stuff” that fills this universe is exactly at 100%, not a fraction more, not a fraction less.
On the other hand… if you consider how tightly matter can be packed… well, the densest thing that we know exists is a neutron star. The mass density inside a neutron star is around 500,000,000,000,000,000 kg per cubic meter (that would be 17 zeroes). On the other hand, the aforementioned critical density of the universe is about 0.000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 01 kg per cubic meter (that would be 25 zeroes after the decimal point). So this means that the universe is 99.999 999 999 999 999 999 999 999 999 999 999 999 999 82 % empty (that would be 39 ‘9’-s after the decimal point.)
This article also provides some interesting perspective.
The existential thing that depresses me the most is when I learned that at some point in the future, pretty much every galaxy that is moving away from each other (Milky Way and Andromeda will someday collide, but together they get further away from every other galaxy) will be so far apart that they will no longer be able to tell there are other galaxies in the universe. They will appear as the only galaxy in the universe. The result of the expanding universe is ironically that at some point far in the future, intelligent life will think the universe is much smaller.
Great comment Swarn!
I’m aware of the neutron star density. It is so massively dense that one teaspoon full would weigh somewhere in the vicinity of 10 million tons. Another pretty darn big number 🙂
Intersting side note, creationists heads are also 82% empty 😉
I’m also aware that because of the expansion of the universe most galaxies/matter in general is flying away from us rapidly. It is sad to think that the night sky I enjoy, outside of our own galaxy and Andromeda, which we will merge with in around 6 B years, will no longer be visible from earth. I know it’s a long way off yet, and I’ll be long gone, my grandkids grandkids will be long gone, mankind may well be long gone by the time it happens, but I still feel a sense of loss over it…
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