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Sky watch: Speeding along through the cosmos

Did you ever have one of those days when nothing seems to move? No matter where you go everything is at a standstill.

Happens too often for me. So on days like this, I wait until darkness falls, step outdoors and gaze skyward. But it looks like everything there is motionless, too.

Not so. We on planet Earth are whirling through the cosmos in at least seven different directions at more than a million miles per hour.

The Earth is spinning on its axis so rapidly that we in middle-northern latitudes are whirling around at nearly 900 mph.

That's nothing compared to how fast we're revolving around the sun - 66,000 mph. At that rate, each one of us had traveled some 583 million miles before celebrating our first birthday, and nearly 3 billion miles before entering kindergarten.

That's not all, though. Gaze high in the eastern sky on the week beginning Sunday, July 18, after dark and you'll find the bright summertime star Vega. Our solar system is speeding roughly in its direction at 12 miles per second. No need to worry about a collision, though; even at this remarkable speed, we'd need 5,300 human lifetimes to reach the star.

Even our Milky Way Galaxy is spinning like a giant Ferris wheel at nearly 140 miles per second. It's also careering at 50 miles per second toward the Great Andromeda Galaxy, one of some 30 such structures that create a galactic family astronomers know as the "Local Group" - which, by the way, is falling toward the Virgo super cluster at another 150 miles per second.

Beyond are more galaxy super clusters as far as the largest telescopes can see. All are rushing away from one another as if hurled from a huge cosmic explosion 14 billion years ago. Between these clusters glows the faint, ghostly echo of this primordial fireball through which we speed at more than a million miles per hour.

And what about the universe itself? Is it turning about an even larger universe? Is it speeding along in some unknown direction at an even more incredible speed? No one knows for sure, but it's certainly fun to ponder while we wait in yet another motionless line.


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