Ready to feel small?
In an effort to understand more about the universe we live in – of which we know very little so far – scientists from Germany and the United States have made the deepest ever measurement of distance within the Milky Way.
So, how big was the distance they measured? Oh, just 20.4 kiloparsecs. That’s more than 60 thousand light years.
Want to know how far that is in layman’s terms? It’s 5.67644e+17 kilometres.
Yep, it’s one of those confusing numbers with letters and symbols inside it which your calculator spits out when a number is too massive to even display. I’m not even sure our tiny human brains would be able to cope with the sheer size of it.
The measurement was made using a group of ten special radio telescopes and forms part of a push to map the universe around us.
Author of the study Alberto Sanna told Gizmodo “it’s an incredible technical achievement”.
“We are now able to map all of the extent (sic) of our galaxy. This is what we’re going to do in the next years: reply to the question ‘What does the Milky Way look like.'”
Sanna, who is from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, did her best to explain the complexity of the feat to us common folk by talking about how your finger appears to be in two places at once if you hold it in front of your face and close each eye separately.
You would be able to determine the location of your finger by combining both images together, and Sanna says that is the general principle behind the record-breaking measurement.
“By simple geometry, you can directly measure the distance from the Sun to the object you are observing,” she said.
The study will act as a stepping stone for further efforts to understand more about the impossibly huge universe we float around in.
All this, and I’m still upset my coffee has gone cold.