How Far Away are Galaxies?

Well, I’ll give you a spoiler: they’re ridiculously far away.

Let’s consider for a moment what a light-year actually means. It sounds like a unit of time, but it’s actually the distance that light travels in one Earth year.

Think of it this way: if your name is Bob, and you can travel a certain distance in one year, that distance could be called a Bob-year.

I know it’s strange to think of light traveling at a certain speed. When you flip a light switch, the room immediately brightens. When you shine a flashlight, its beam immediately falls across the nearest surface.

But that just goes to show how insanely fast light travels. If it takes 2 million years for light to get from one object to another…imagine how far apart those objects are?

Well, that’s the case for our home galaxy, the Milky Way, and our nearest galactic neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy.

But…wait a second. How do we know that?

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A Universe of Galaxies

When the earliest astronomers and philosophers looked up at the night sky, they never could have imagined a sight like this.

What if I told you there are only four single stars in this image?

That’s right. Four.

The rest are whole galaxies, full of billions of stars.

You can tell the foreground stars from the galaxies by the diffraction spikes–astronomer speak for those four bright spikes of light. Can you find them?

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