Light years ahead
Authored by: Sean  

One of the most common ways in which the term ‘light year’ is used is to denote the virtual distance between things. For instance, maybe if one is talking about the latest technology, then many people may say that it is light years ahead of present times. While this may denote a ‘virtual’ facet, a light year is indeed a very tangible and scientific unit of measurement. Simply put, it is the distance that light can travel in 1 year. And this distance is rather mind-boggling because light moves at the speed of 300,000 kilometers per second or 186,000 miles per second. In one year therefore, light would have traversed a distance of 5,865,696,000,000 miles or 9,460,800,000,000 kilometers.


Light years

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To put these huge numbers into perspective – you could circle the planet Earth 7.5 times in one second if you could rocket forward at the speed of light. Nothing comes anywhere close to this speed though! Of course, with the help of modern science, humankind has been able to measure and fix a tangible value to the concept of light years. But interestingly, if you were to go back in history and spend some time with Aristotle and Empedocles, you would be privy to their argument about the ability of light to travel in the first place. Galileo was perhaps the first scientific approach to the measurement of light years and he conducted his experiments with simple lanterns!




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Today it has become easy to measure distances between entities in the solar system in terms of light years. Light years can also be used to calculate the age of a stellar entity. For instance, if the world knows of a particular star being 2 million light-years away then it simply means that the light that is visible to the world today was created from the star two million years ago! The Andromeda Galaxy is said to be 2.3 million light-years away and our very own star, the Sun is a mere 8 light minutes away. Not years but minutes. This simply means that the light of the sun starts from its origin but reaches us only 8 minutes later! A rather short distance if you compare it to the fact that the next nearest star, the Alpha Centauri, is 4.4 light years away.




Earlier in February, 2014, astronomers at The Australian National University have literally discovered the Methuselah of stars. The oldest star in the universe is 6000 light years away from us. Yet another team of astronomers from the Imperial College London have discovered four Galaxy clusters 10 billion light-years away. And every astronomer that you meet will tell you that there is an infinite world that is yet to be discovered. So the next time you describe something as being light-years away from you, know that you are actually talking about it in magnificent astronomical terms as well!


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