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Ask the Astronomer

Laura Klein asks:

How can I find out what stars/nebulae are located at 35,000 light-years from Earth? I've looked all over the internet and in astronomy textbooks, but I haven't found anything that lists how far away things are.

Astronomer William Georgevich replies:

You are correct in noticing that information about distances from the Earth are sketchy in various books about astronomy. Basically, because this information is not of interest to the general public and because all astronomical distances are estimates.

In the range of 35,000 light years is where most open and open clusters lie. There exact range is 300 to 35,000 light years. The best way to understand star clusters is that they are families of stars. Open clusters are young families of young stars that getting together because of gravitational attraction. Globular clusters are old families of old stars that have been around since the Milky Way was formed. 35,000 light years is still a distance range within the Milky Way and all these object are in our own galaxy.

The closest large galaxy to the Earth is the Andromeda Galaxy at 2 million light years, quite a bit farther than star clusters in the Milky Way. If 1 light year = 6 trillion miles then:

35,000 light years = 216,000,000,000,000,000 miles and
2 million light years = 12,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles

One general interest astronomy book that mentions some distances of objects from the Earth is Hans Vehrenberg's ATLAS OF DEEP SKY WONDERS available through SKY PUBLISHING CORP.

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