What Does a Light Year Equal?

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A light year is a unit used to measure interstellar distances between objects in space that would be too great for commonly used measurements such as miles and kilometers.

Distance Traveled

  • A light year measures the distance light can travel in one year, light travels at around 300,000 kilometers or 186,400 miles per second which in a year is 9,500,000,000,000 kilometers or 5,850,000,000,000 miles. Therefore, 5,850,000,000,000 miles is equal to 1 light year.

Astronomical Unit

  • To estimate distances to objects within our own solar system, the astronomical unit (AU) measurement is used. An AU uses the average distance between the earth and the sun as its guiding measurement. The sun is an average of 93 million miles from the Earth.

Larger Distances

  • Outside the solar system, the astronomic unit of measurement is not large enough to be used easily, therefore the light year is used to measure distances outside of our own solar system.

Andromeda Galaxy

  • The distance to the next large galaxy, Andromeda, from our own Milky Way galaxy is 13,048,795,036,977,000,000 miles; this number is difficult to understand and use for scientific research. Therefore, the Andromeda Galaxy is said to be 2.3 million light years away.

Milky Way Galaxy

  • The Milky Way Galaxy is also measured using the light year and is measured at around 150,000 light years in width.

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