10 Epic Astronomy Facts You Never Knew You Needed



Ah yes, general education classes. This semester, I'm taking solar system astronomy to fulfill my science requirement, and I've come across some pretty neat facts. Here some of my favorites. 

  1. 1. The Voyage scale solar system model, located in Washington, D.C., puts the solar system on a 1:10 billion scale. The Sun is about 49 feet from the Earth in the model, but if you wanted to walk from the Sun to the nearest star, you’d have to walk all the way across the United States.

  2. 2. If you compressed the entire Milky Way Galaxy to be the size of the field in Death Valley and stood in our solar system’s location (near the 20-yard line), you would have millions of star systems within the reach of your arms.

  3. 3. It would take thousands of years (scientists believe around 3000) to count the stars in the Milky Way.

  4. 4. The cosmic calendar places the entire history of the universe into the span of one year where the universe began just after midnight on January 1st, and we are currently located just before midnight on December 31st. On this calendar, the average college student was born just 0.05 seconds ago.

  5. 5. Because stars are all moving relative to each other, the constellations will look very different in 10,000 years.

  6. 6. Since your zodiac sign is where the Sun was located along its ecliptic path in the month you were born, you actually can’t see your sign’s constellation on your birthday because the light from the Sun obscures it.

  7. 7. The Moon is locked into what is called synchronous rotation, which means it orbits Earth and rotates in the same amount of time, so we only ever see one half of the Moon from Earth.

  8. 8. Occasionally, other planets appear to move backward, which is called retrograde motion. This is because, as Earth passes other planets in its orbit, the background behind them shifts and makes them look like they are moving opposite of Earth. Observations of retrograde motion are one factor that kept ancient astronomers from realizing that the Sun is the center of the solar system.

  9. 9. Machu Picchu in Peru was built with structures aligning with the sunrise during the winter and summer solstices.

  10. 10. If astronomers had identified Uranus as a planet in ancient times, we likely would have eight days in a week. If only we had three day weekends every week...