Is the light we see from stars extremely old?

  • Our nearest star Proxima Centauri is 4.243 light years away from Earth.



    Does that mean we are seeing light that is 4.243 years old everyday?


    Some interesting points: Some entities are 4000-6000 light years away, this means the light we see from them today was formed when we were still using stone tools here on earth

    4000 lightyears would mostly be still in our galaxy, which is roughly 100.000 lightyears across, and 3000-6000 lightyears thick. Most galaxies are at least millions of lightyears away.

  • TildalWave

    TildalWave Correct answer

    8 years ago

    Yes, the speed of light in vacuum (or c) is 299,792,458 m/s and one light-year is the distance the light travels in one Julian year (365.25 days), which comes out as 9.4605284 × 1015 meters. Since c is the maximum speed at which all energy, matter, and information in the Universe can travel, it is the universal physical constant on which the light-year (ly) as one of the astronomical units of length is based.



    That means that visible light as an electromagnetic radiation cannot travel faster than c and in one Julian year it can traverse a maximum distance of




    d = t * c




    d is distance in meters



    t time in seconds



    c the speed of light in vacuum in meters per second



    If we calculate this distance for a 4.243 ly distant object, that comes out as 4.243 * 365.25 * 86,400 s * 299,792,458 m * sˉ¹ or exactly 40,141,879,395,160,334.4 meters (roughly 40 trillion kilometers or 25 trillion miles).



    That is the distance the light traveled since it was last reflected of (or in our case emitted from, since Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star) the surface of a celestial object to be 4.243 Julian years later visible at our observation point, in this case our planet Earth from where the distance to Proxima Centauri you quoted was measured.



    The more powerful the telescope, the further into the past we can see because the light is much older! This goes the same regardless of the distance of the object you're observing, but astronomy is particularly neat in this regard and we can observe objects that are so distant that we see them from the time when they were still forming.



    For further reading on other units used to measure far away objects you might be interested in reading this question on the parsec.


    So when we look at the night sky we are looking at the past. Let's say one of the stars we see in the sky went supernova and and is not there no more and let's say this supernova was 'small' and could've of been seen only if you were literally next to the star. Let's say this star is about 4ly away. So in 4 years we will not see the star anymore right?

    @NuWin No such thing as a supernova that small. In four years you would see the supernova (after the light has already been traveling for four years from the perspective of an observer on Earth) which would gradually fade until it's no longer visible to the naked eye. Also, everyone would die.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM