10 Short but Compelling Facts about the Universe

We all love fun facts because they are short and memorable. So, here are 10 short and memorable facts about the universe that I gathered over the years. I find these to be both fun and inspiring, and I hope you do too.

Fact 1: On an atomic level, we all share the water we drink and the air we breath, even after we are long gone

There are more molecules of air in a single breath of air than there are breaths of air in the world’s entire atmosphere. This means that some of the air molecules we inhale in a single breath of air at any given moment have once passed through the lungs of a historical figure, such as Genghis Khan, or Winston Churchill, or any person of your choosing.

This also applies to water. There are more molecules of water in a cup of water than there are cups of water in all the world’s oceans, meaning that some molecules of water we drink also once passed through the body of an important historical figure.

Fact 2: How we can see the extinction event of the dinosaurs, or any major historical event

If we are able to teleport ourselves to a planet or galaxy (the galaxy called M100 for example) located 65 million light years away from Earth and pull out a good enough telescope, pointing towards the direction of Earth, we would be able to witness the extinction event of the dinosaurs.

Fact 3: Time-travelling (from home, with telescopes)

This fact is related to the previous one.

Since it takes time for light to travel in space, the farther out in space you look, the farther back in time you see. We don’t see stars as they are, but rather as they were. The light from stars thousands of light years away is merely a ghost, a distant image of a world that may not be there anymore.

It can be seen as a form of time-travelling. Telescopes are really time-machines. We can actually observe the universe all the way back to its earliest moments – even the Big Bang itself, given that we have powerful enough telescopes to do so.

Fact 4: Our connections to everything in this universe

As humans, we are genetically connected with all life forms on Earth, including plants; chemically connected with stars on other star systems; and atomically connected with all matter in the universe.

Fact 5: Stars and sands

It is very likely that there is at least about five to ten times more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all the world’s beaches.

Fact 6: Stars and the atoms in us

It is estimated that an average human body contains about 7 billion billion billion atoms (that is 7 followed by 27 zeros), while there is about 70 sextillion stars in the universe (that is 7 followed by 22 zeros).

Given this, there is probably around a hundred thousand times more atoms that make up your body than there are stars in the known universe.

Fact 7: Our origin

Ever since the Big Bang, with chemical elements forged over 14 billion years in the centers of high-mass stars that exploded into space, and with these elements, released from the explosions of stars, enriching subsequent generations of stars with carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and other basic ingredients of life itself, we are not just figuratively, but literally made of star dust.

Like the American astronomer Harlow Shapley once observed:

We are brothers of the boulders, cousins of the clouds.

Fact 8: The speed of light is not always so fast

Light does not always travel very fast. While it is true that light can travel up to 300,000 km/hour in a vacuum, it slows down a bit when travelling through other environments. “Wait, I already know that!”, I hear you. But wait, there is more.

Scientists have even discovered a way to slow light down 20-million fold from 186,282 miles a second to a ridiculously slow speed of just 38 miles/hour (or 17 meters/second) using an entirely new state of matter. You can read more about this interesting phenomenon here.

Not to mention, two independent teams of physicists have even managed to bring light to a complete standstill by relying on a complex phenomenon in certain gases, and then “restart” it again later. You can read more about it here.

Fact 9: How long can an atom survive?

Nobody really knows how long an atom can survive. In fact, they seem to go on living for ever. According to the astrophysicist Martin Rees, it is estimated that atoms live for about 1035 years – a number so big that it should only be expressed in mathematical notation.

Fact 10: We are all made of the same recycled stuff

As they are so long-lived, atoms really get to travel around. It is almost certainly that every atoms in your body has passed through several different stars and been part of countless number of organisms before coming all together to become you.

Our bodies are so abundant with atoms, and these atoms are also vigorously recycled after our death that it has been suggested a substantial number of our atoms, up to a billion for each of us, probably once made up an atomic arrangement that we know as Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare

If Shakespeare was real, you probably share some of the same atoms with him

Another billion more each came from Buddha, Leonardo Da Vinci, Mozart, or any historical figure.

(Sadly this process can take some decades for the atoms to be thoroughly redistributed. So, as disappointing as it may seem, you are not yet one with Michael Jackson.)

January 2022 - Melbourne, Victoria.

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