Lightyears and Lightyears Away

I spotted the following small article in USA Today of August 11, 2010:

Hubble captures a cosmic wonder

Hubble space telescope astronomers Tuesday unveiled a look at a spiral galaxy spinning like a wheel amid a sea of stars. NGC 5911 lies 320 million light-years away in the “Coma Cluster” of about 1,000 galaxies, islands of stars like our own Milky Way. One light-year is about 5.9 trillion miles. “In the case of NGC 4911, wispy arcs of the galaxy’s outer spiral arms are being pulled and distorted by forces from a companion galaxy to the upper right,” a Hubble team statement says.  — Dan Vergano

I got a kick out of Vergano’s statement that a “light-year is about 5.9 trillion miles.” I would bet money on the fact that a person that does not know without help what a light-year is also does not know what a trillion of anything is.

Why didn’t he say 9.5 trillion kilometers?

You know what a stud is? The 2×4 carpenters use to build a standard-height wall. The length of a stud is 92 and 5/8th inches. So a light year is 4035.88 trillion lengths of studs.

Should I calculate it in terms of beer cans stacked on top of each other?

320 million light years is a long distance away. Lots of beer cans.

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