Long way to the chemist’s: a rough guide to distances in the universe

Stars are immense, but the space between them is truly phenomenal. chefranden

“Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

We all know the universe is large, very large, but is it possible to really comprehend just how large it really is? Sit down, take a deep breath, and we can give it a go.

In my previous scale article, we considered the sizes of stars, and finished by imagining the sun being the size of an orange. On this scale, the nearest star to the sun, also the size of an orange, would be 2,300 kilometres away.

Even through stars can be immense on human scales, they are dwarfed by the distances between them.

Let’s continue our journey outwards and consider larger distances in the universe. The first stop is our cosmic home, the Milky Way galaxy. From our vantage point, buried deep within, the Milky Way appears as a broad band of stars encircling the sky.

An artist’s impression of the Milky Way. NASA