It's a cosmic embarrassment of riches – the universe appears to hold three times the number of stars many astronomers might have estimated only a year ago.
That's the implication a pair of scientists has drawn after measuring eight huge elliptical galaxies that they selected from two vast galaxy clusters located between 53 million to 321 million light-years from Earth.
With as many as 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe, each with hundreds of billions of stars, the result – if it holds up – implies an enormous number of additional burning gas balls out there, with intriguing implications for explanations of how stars and galaxies form and evolve, researchers say.
The cause of this huge revision of the stellar census are stars known as red dwarfs, literally the dimmest stellar bulbs on the shelf. These stars weigh in at no more than about 30 percent of the sun's mass.
Surveys of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, have found that these dwarfs outnumber sun-like stars by about 100 to 1, explains Pieter van Dokkum, an astronomer at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. But the dwarfs are so dim and other galaxies so distant that red dwarfs fail to appear when astronomers try to account for the stars other galaxies contain.
Scientists have tried to estimate the number of stars in the universe - as if they know how big the universe really is. What they can do is measure what is detectable to the human senses through instruments constructed by Man. And apparently that's not good enough. With this latest discovery, estimates for this number now range as high as 300 sextillion.
That's 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Even Goomba's waist falls a bit below that.
But my question always comes back to this: where did it all start? Our world views are strongly influenced by this foundational belief; is it all mere chance or is there a Creator - a Supreme Omnipotent Engineer who designed all we sense around us and beyond even what our pitiful imaginations can suppose?
If you believe in a Creator, then you have an immutable, immovable foundation that upholds the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution as the Founding Fathers conceived them. If not, then you do not hold to the notion of inalienable rights because they can exist only as long as the governing authority deigns to let you have them. Mankind has existed under the latter for millennia and only for a relatively short while under the former.
But I digress, back to the stars ... and hydrogen.
If our own medium sized star runs through that much hydrogen in one second, how much hydrogen is needed to fuel 300 sextillion stars to burn for a second? For ten thousand years? A billion years? The numbers are beyond comprehension. And it is beyond comprehension how this mass, and a seemingly infinite amount more, came into existence in a twinkling ... by chance.
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.