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Sutherland – Gateway to the Stars

Sutherland and stars are synonymous.  B&B’s named after planets, crisp, clear winter nights, observatories and telescopes, and people – warm and knowledgeable – eager to share their passion.

We have always been intrigued by the Universe, but our visit to Sutherland awoke a new interest and we realised how little we actually knew……

The speed of light

The speed of light is 300,000 km/s. It is hard to fathom this speed. It takes 8 minutes for light to travel the 150 million km from the sun. So if the sun was switched off we would only know 8 minutes later.

Perhaps a better perspective is that in the time it takes to snap your fingers, light will travel 7 times around the earth.

Size of our Solar System

The size of the Solar System is measured in Astronomical Units (AU) where the distance from the Earth to the Sun is 1 AU = 150 million kms. Jupiter is 600 million kms from us. Neptune is 29 AU’s from us – a staggering 4.3 billion miles!

Some interesting facts about the planets: Earth can fit between the surface of Saturn and its rings. Jupiters day is 9 hours and it is much larger than earth, so it speeds round at a rapid rate. The great red spot on Jupiter is roughly the size of Earth

The number of 0’s in the size of our solar system is extraordinary but becomes tiny as we move out into space.

Astronomical units become too small to measure. Instead we use light years which are bandied about like confetti. A light year is the distance that light travels in 1 year – 9.46 trillion kilometres. 9 460 000 000 000 kms.

We could fit 110 of our solar systems in 1 light year and haven’t even reached our next nearest star Alpha Centauri which is 4.3 light years away. At this stage my brain is boggled by these distances but there is so much more to come….

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is a spiral galaxy with a diameter of 150,000 light-years with about 200 billion stars and more than 100 billion planets.

To take this concept further, the nearest large galaxy to us is Andromeda which is so big and close that you can see it in the night sky with your naked eye. What you’re really seeing is 1,000’s of billions of stars in a configuration similar to our Milky Way. However, all of those stars are about 2.5 million light years away, which means you’re seeing Andromeda as it was 2.5 million years ago.

So how big is the universe?

The universe is about 13.8 billion years old, so any light we see has to have been travelling for 13.8 billion years or less – we call this the ‘observable universe’.

However, the universe has continued to expand since the Big Bang and the distance to the edge of the observable universe is about 46 billion light years. ie 93 billion light years across.

So how big is universe overall. No-one knows. Some estimates say 251 times the size of the observable universe. Some say it is infinite. 

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