Elizabethan astronomers argued about the nature of the Universe. Some thought that the Earth centred system was bounded by a sphere of stars beyond which was the realm of God. Others argued that the Sun was at the centre of a similar system. Still others held the extraordinary idea that stars were at a variety of vast distances and that the Sun and its system of planets occupied a just tiny portion of the Universe.
In 1925 an American scientist called Edwin Hubble expanded the Universe . Up until then most scientists thought that all objects were within the Milky Way. Hubble showed that small misty patches in the sky were galaxies; enormous collections of stars at distances many times greater that the diameter of the Milky Way.
65 years later when NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) launched their great space telescope into orbit it was Hubble’s name they gave to the instrument.
The Hubble Space Telescope has expanded our view of the Universe still further, viewing galaxies in excess of 10 billion light years distant.
Your task is to use a spread sheet to organise data on the distances of objects in the Universe.
1. Open the Hubble’s Universe spreadsheet.
2. Look at the ‘Information and Image Library’ sheet and input the object names and distance data into the ‘All Objects’ table of the spreadsheet.
3. Now cut and paste the objects in the first table that are smaller than diameter of the Milky way into the second ‘Objects with distance< Milky Way diameter’ table
4. Finally select objects out of this table that are at smaller distance than the edge of the planetary solar system. The solar system objects are given in light minutes. The solar system spreadsheet will convert these into light years for you. You will need to paste these calculated cells back into the other two tables. Do this by selecting the cell to paste to, press = and then click on the cell you want to copy.
5. Now write a holiday brochure for trips to different parts of the Universe. If you do this on a computer you can use the images in the ‘Information and Image Library Sheet’ and cut and paste your distance charts from the spreadsheet. Choose one destination in the Solar System, one outside the Solar System but in the Milky Way and one destination outside the Milky Way. Whilst the holidays will be a two week stay at your destination, you may be away for considerably longer. Your imaginary transportation will travel at just under the speed of light so the time you will be away is twice the distance of the object in light years, plus two weeks!
You might like to know that travelling at near to the speed of light slows down time for the traveller. So a round trip of a few thousand light years can be done in a very short time. For a photon of light travelling at light speed it would take no time at all. However time back on Earth will pass as usual.
Information Table and Image Library
The solar system objects are given in light minutes. The solar system spreadsheet will convert these into light years for you.
The images can be cut pasted and enlarged. If you are online, clicking on the images will take you straight to an even larger version.
Most of the images and data here are from the European Space Agency Hubble site at