For Perspective, the Milky Way Equals 9 Duodecillion Trumps

This picture of the nearby galaxy NGC 6744 was taken with the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at La Silla. The large spiral galaxy is similar to the Milky Way, making this image look like a picture postcard of our own galaxy sent from extragalactic space. The picture was created from exposures taken through four different filters that passed blue, yellow-green, red light, and the glow coming from hydrogen gas. These are shown in this picture as blue, green, orange and red, respectively.

Mathematicians have announced the most accurate estimate of the mass of the Milky Way galaxy yet, and the results are in: our galaxy holds matter equivalent to about 481 billion suns.

The new measurement, set to be published in The Astrophysical Journal, uses observations of how stars move across the galaxy to calculate the gravitational forces between objects. They paid special attention to globular clusters — groupings of stars bound together by intense gravity that orbit like a satellite around the center of a galaxy.

Observes the New York Times:

Just as the mass of the sun can be calculated by measuring its gravitational pull on Earth, the mass of the Milky Way can be calculated by measuring its gravitational pull on the globular clusters.

Of course, the total mass arrived at by the researchers remains a best-guess, though they are confident they’re within the ballpark, give or take about 100 billion suns.

A “solar mass” is a common unit of measurement in astronomy because it is both very big and within the realm of human imagination. But you could describe the estimated mass of the galaxy in terms of any object of known mass.

For your reference, the Milky Way is approximately equal in mass to:

1.6 x 1017 Earths

That’s 16 followed by 16 zeros, or 160 quadrillion, Earths.

1.6 x 1032 Great Pyramids of Giza

That’s 16 followed by 31 zeros, or 160 nonillion, Great Pyramids of Giza.

1.2 x 1038 T. rexes

That’s 12 followed by 37 zeros, or 120 undecillion, Tyrannosaurus rexes.

4.5 x 1038 Tesla Model S cars

That’s 45 followed by 37 zeros, or 450 undecillion, Teslas.

8.9 x 1039 Donald Trumps

If you take him at his word, that’s 89 followed by 38 zeros, or 8.9 duodecillion Donald Trumps.

7.0 x 1041 MacBook Airs

That’s seven followed by 41 zeros, or 700 duodecillion, MacBook Airs.