More Really Big Numbers

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: