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Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016

Some numbers are out of this world

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The scientific community is all abuzz this week over the discovery of a "death star galaxy" that is blasting a neighboring galaxy with deadly radiation. NASA said this week that telescopes had witnessed this new outer-space "violence" for the first time. This black hole apparently nuzzled up to a nearby galaxy and zapped it with radiation and energy. Eventually the blasts will eat away at the second galaxy, like a knock-out punch in a prize fight.

But I don't know beans about galaxies or radiation or death stars. I noticed but one single item in this entire lengthy story. And I'm still trying to put it in perspective.

Here's the deal. The galaxy in question is a mere - are you ready for this? - 8.2 billion trillion miles from Earth. Ok, let that sink in. I'll repeat. 8.2 billion trillion miles away!

How can anyone comprehend a number that large? Seriously, I don't even know how many darned zeroes you would use to write that number.

But let me take it a step beyond. Do you mean to tell me we have the ability to actually view something 8.2 billion trillion miles away and we're still stumped on curing the common cold? We can watch a galaxy battle from billions and trillions of miles but we can't find Osama Bin Laden hiding in a cave?

I'm still trying to wrap my arms about the 8.2 billion trillion miles and I finally realize I should have studied harder in math classes through the years. Maybe then I could at least comprehend a number that size.

And another thing, while I'm on this rant. So we can see a galaxy fist-fight from this distance, so what? Why is this important to you and me? Are we just showing off our high-tech gear or is there a lesson to be learned. Are we going to discover that in a few trillion years the Earth is going to end? Ok, that at least gives us a little breathing room. I would bet that if mankind is still around in a trillion years, those future humans couldn't care less what we "discovered" with our expensive telescopes.

Ponder this over your Christmas dinner. Ask if anyone can give you an idea of just how large an 8.2 billion trillion pile of jellybeans would be. If that doesn't generate some discussion, then tune in football.

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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen