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Name: Kathy
Status: student
Grade: 4-5
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 1993 - 1999 - Update 2008


Question:
How big is the universe? How many rings are around Saturn?


Replies:
A quasar discovered in 1991 is believed to be about 14 billion light years away from us, and is the most distant object known. It is moving away from us at a speed very close to the speed of light, so it is near what we call "the edge of the observable universe", though it is not really an edge at all.

Saturn has 7 main ring systems, denoted A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. Each one is made up of billions of particles, ranging in size from that of a grain of sand to chunks as big as a house.

RC Winther

Update: July 2008

Based on data from the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation in 2004, the universe appears to be around 150 Billion light-years wide*. Because the universe appears to be around 14 Billion years old (and the farthest object appears to be around 13 Billion light years away**), this seems paradoxical, since nothing can normally exceed the speed of light. The answer is that space itself has been expanding over all that time, carrying the objects in it (like the "raisin in an expanding loaf" analogy).

Note that there have been several recent theories that our local universe is just part of a larger "multiverse" containing other universes, but this hasn't been proven.

Some references as noted above:

* www.space.com/scienceastronomy/mystery_monday_040524.html

** www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4274187

Paul Bridges

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