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Measuring The Universe Makes It More Understandable

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Milky Way and starry skies over a lodge in the Andes mountains.

It’s no secret that the universe is vast. The distances between us and our closest astronomical neighbors are huge and the numbers only get bigger the farther away those stars and galaxies are from us. So, how do astronomers grapple with it to make the size of the universe understandable to the rest of us?

Jean Creighton, Lake Effect's astronomy contributor, says one way we do it is by using orders of magnitude. Another way is by using time as a measure. That seems odd until you realize we do it all the time:

"We say something is 10 minutes away," Creighton explains. "This could be by car, this could be on foot, but it’s quietly understood that we have some speed in mind and that uniquely determines how much time that’s going to take us to get there."

Creighton tells us it's the immensity of the universe that makes it important to find these ways to talk about it in smaller pieces:

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.
Dr. Jean Creighton has always been inspired by how the cosmos works. She was born in Toronto, Ontario and grew up in Athens, Greece where her mother claims she showed a great interest in how stars form from the age of five.