I have a dictionary that I was given at Christmas when I was eleven and in my first year at secondary school. On the blank opening page I wrote my name and address. After the obvious local part I wrote; England, Great Britain, Europe, The World, The Solar System, The Milky Way, The Universe. It was 1968 and Apollo 8 had just gone round the moon in preparation for the Apollo 11 landing in the following June. So I guess like many school boys of my generation I was inspired by all things space and science. What’s more I still am, hence the love of reading and writing science fiction. Out there anything is possible. And when you look at the facts, the impossible to imagine numbers do nothing to diminish that school boy excitement:
1) Let’s start with the Big Bang – how ridiculously wonderful is that? And apparently, although I don’t know how they know it, 98% of all the material that exists in the universe, existed three minutes after the Big Bang.
2) The heavier elements in the Universe were all created in supernovae. So we are made of material that was born in stars and exploding stars.
3) 99.9% of all the material in our solar system is in the sun.
4) The sun is 300,000 larger than the Earth
5) If you reduced the earth to the size of a pea, Jupiter would be 300 metres away and Pluto two and a half kilometres.
6) The core of a star reaches 16 million degrees Celsius. A single grain of sand this hot would kill a human from 150 km away.
7) They estimate that there is between one hundred billion and four hundred billion stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way. And the Milky Way is just one of about one hundred and fifty billion galaxies. I can’t imagine how many noughts that is for the potential number of stars and planets that are out there.
8) That’s somewhere between 10 sextillion and 1 septillion stars in the Universe (I’m not even sure what those numbers mean).
9) The estimation is that there at least 500 million inhabitable planets in the Milky Way. So, surely there must life and intelligent life out there. We can’t be alone. I’m not saying we are going to meet them any time soon, but for a science fiction writer, what more do you need?
10) Our nearest neighbouring star is Alpha Centauri 4.3 light years away, so what you’re seeing happened in 2011. Our nearest galaxy is Andromeda 2.2 million light years away so what we’re seeing corresponds to when our ancestors (and were not modern humans) were using flint hand axes. Using the Hubble telescope we are even seeing galaxies 13 billion light years ago and well, that’s about as far back as you can go.
12) One teaspoon of a neutron star weighs about a billion tons.
13) Voyager 1 is the first manmade object to leave the solar system. It did so on the 20th March 2013. If you go on line (try Wikipedia) you can see a picture it took of earth of earth taken from 6 billion kilometres away. We are so small in the grand scheme of things
14) Don’t ask me to explain the physics, but many believe there could be an infinite number of universes out there. So really anything is possible
15) There’s a gas cloud in the constellation of Aquila that contains enough alcohol to make 400 trillion trillion pints of beer. Why??
Well these are some of the facts I’ve collected. If I ever get stuck with ideas for my writing I look at these or go and find some more. If you’ve got a favourite that’s not here let me know.
As always views and comments are welcome