It happened about 290 million lightyears away. That’s 1.7048014 x 1015 miles, rounded to 8 digits or 2,381,607,497,437,875,000 over 1,397 miles if displayed as a fraction.
A figure that may be easier to digest is 18,339,912 astronomical units, an astronomical unit being roughly the distance from the Earth to the Sun, which varies as the Earth makes its merry way around the sun due to its elliptical orbit (which, as you know, partly gives us our seasons), so another figure that’s not quite exact, but as an Astronomical Unit was set in 2012 to be 150 million kilometres (93.2 million miles) it is about as accurate as we can get given the circumstances and the vastness of all things space and my limited ability at maths (all mathematical credit goes to my Casio FX-83WA scientific calculator, which I’m so pleased with, I’m giving it a picture credit).
Basically, it happened a very, very, verrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyy long time ago and very, very, verrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyy, far away.
What am I talking about? I’m talking about something that happened 290 million years ago. I’m talking about two galaxies colliding and merging into one, I’m taking about interacting galaxies to give them their technical name, and to be completely precise, I’m talking about the Mice Galaxies, or NGC 4676A and NGC 4676B to give them their proper name, collectively known as NGC 4676. They are two spiral galaxies, located in the constellation Coma Berenices (you’ll find it between Leo and Bootes in the northern sky, somewhere in the fourth galactic quadrant if memory serves me right), and they were first photographed by Hubble in 2002 (that’s them in the photo up top), and came into my life courtesy of a National Geographic article about Hubble around about the same time, back in the days when I subscribed to said publication, and for a reason only known to me, stuck in my head. Waiting for this prompt to drag them back out again!
Life was mostly shite for me back in those days due to poor decision making (giving up a promising career to run a pub, which was an utter, utter disaster and the beginnings of my first breakdown). To make life bearable, I used to escape into astronomy and astrophysics in a bid to find out exactly what my place and purpose on our rotating rock was, and as a consequence, discovered a whole lot more to boot!
I would really like to go on, but my 10 minutes is up! Mainly from fucking about with my calculator!
Maybe I’ll write a longer blog post on why this particular part of the night sky did stick in my mind at the time for such a long time and is so fascinating to me, as indeed all the night sky and our galaxy and the universe and everything is, but this bit in particular.
If I can find the time and the inclination to do so.
Anyway, as Eric Idle once said, “Whenever life gets you down, Mrs Brown…”
written between 12:20 and 12:30 (add another couple of minutes or so faffing about with the images) and prompted by this page