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How many atoms are in the observable universe? – Livescience.com

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All matter in the universe — no matter how big, small, young or old — is made up of atoms

Each of these building blocks consists of a positively charged nucleus, made up of protons and neutrons, and negatively charged orbiting electrons. The number of protons, neutrons and electrons an atom has determines which element it belongs to on the periodic table and influences how it reacts with other atoms around it. Everything you see around you is just a configuration of different atoms interacting with one another in unique ways.

So, if everything is made of atoms, do we know how many atoms are in the universe?

Related: Why does outer space look black?

To start out “small,” there are around 7 octillion, or 7×10^27 (7 followed by 27 zeros), atoms in an average human body, according to The Guardian. Given this vast sum of atoms in one person alone, you might think it would be impossible to determine how many atoms are in the entire universe. And you’d be right: Because we have no idea how large the entire universe really is, we can’t find out how many atoms are within it. 

However, it is possible to work out roughly how many atoms are in the observable universe — the part of the universe that we can see and study — using some cosmological assumptions and a bit of math.

The observable universe

The universe was created during the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. As it exploded into existence, from a single point of infinite mass and temperature, the universe began expanding outward and hasn’t stopped since. 

Because the universe is 13.8 billion years old and the observable universe stretches as far away from us as light can travel in the time since the universe was born, you might assume that the observable universe stretches only 13.8 billion light-years in every direction. But because the universe is constantly expanding, this isn’t the case. When we observe a distant galaxy or star, what we are really seeing is where it was when it first emitted the light. But by the time the light reaches us, the galaxy or star is much farther away than it was when we saw it. Using cosmic microwave background radiation, we can work out how fast the universe is expanding, and because that rate is constant — which is currently scientists’ best guess (although some scientists think it may be slowing down) — that means that the observable universe actually stretches 46 billion light-years in all directions, according to Live Science’s sister site Space.com.

But knowing how big the observable universe is doesn’t tell us everything we know about how many atoms are in it. We also need to know how much matter, or stuff, is in it.

Notice how the universe has expanded since the Big Bang happened 13.8 billion years ago.  (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Cosmic assumptions

Matter is not the only thing in the universe, however. In fact, it makes up only about 5% of the universe, according to NASA. The rest consists of dark energy and dark matter, but because they are not made up of atoms, we don’t need to worry about them for this mystery. 

Related: What happens in intergalactic space?

According to Einstein’s famous E=mc^2 equation, energy and mass, or matter, are interchangeable, so it is possible for matter to be created from or transformed into energy. But on the cosmic scale of the universe, we can assume that the amount of matter created and uncreated cancel each other out. This means matter is finite, so there are the same number of atoms in the observable universe as there always have been, according to Scientific American. This is important because our picture of the observable universe is not a single snapshot in time.

According to our observations of the known universe, the physical laws that govern it are the same everywhere. Combined with the assumption that the expansion of the universe is constant, this means that, on a large scale, matter is uniformly distributed throughout the cosmos — a concept known as the cosmological principle. In other words, there are no regions of the universe that have more matter than others. This idea allows scientists to accurately estimate the number of stars and galaxies in the observable universe, which is useful because most atoms are found within stars.

Simplifying the equation

Knowing the observable universe’s size and that matter is equally and finitely distributed across it makes it a lot easier to calculate the number of atoms. However, there are a few more assumptions we have to make before we break out the calculator.

First, we must assume that all atoms are contained within stars, even though they aren’t. Unfortunately, we have a much less accurate idea of how many planets, moons and space rocks there are in the observable universe compared with stars, which means it is harder to add them into the equation. But because the vast majority of atoms in the universe are contained within stars, we can get a good approximation of the number of atoms in the universe by figuring out how many atoms there are in stars and ignoring everything else.

Second, we must assume that all atoms in the universe are hydrogen atoms, even though they aren’t. Hydrogen atoms account for around 90% of the total atoms in the universe, according to Los Alamos National Laboratory, and an even higher percentage of the atoms in stars, which we are focusing on. As you will see shortly, it also makes the calculations a lot simpler.

Doing the math

Now, it’s finally time to do the math. 

To work out the number of atoms in the observable universe, we need to know its mass, which means we have to find out how many stars there are. There are around 10^11 to 10^12 galaxies in the observable universe, and each galaxy contains between 10^11 and 10^12 stars, according to the European Space Agency. This gives us somewhere between 10^22 and 10^24 stars. For the purposes of this calculation, we can say that there are 10^23 stars in the observable universe. Of course, this is just a best guess; galaxies can range in size and number of stars, but because we can’t count them individually, this will have to do for now.

On average, a star weighs around 2.2×10^32 pounds (10^32 kilograms), according to Science ABC, which means that the mass of the universe is around 2.2×10^55 pounds (10^55 kilograms). Now that we know the mass, or amount of matter, we need to see how many atoms fit into it. On average, each gram of matter has around 10^24 protons, according to Fermilab, a national laboratory for particle physics in Illinois. That means it is the same as the number of hydrogen atoms, because each hydrogen atom has only one proton (hence why we made the earlier assumption about hydrogen atoms). 

This gives us 10^82 atoms in the observable universe. To put that into context, that is 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms. 

This number is only a rough guess, based on a number of approximations and assumptions. But given our current understanding of the observable universe, it is unlikely to be too far off the mark. 

Originally published on Live Science.

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Memorial event in Prince Rupert harbour to draw attention to tugboat safety – Vancouver Sun

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Since 2016, there have been 350 accidents involving tugboats or barges in B.C., including 24 sinkings and two fatalities, according to data collected by the TSB.

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More than 20 boats, including ferries, fishing vessels and tugboats, are expected to take part in a memorial event in the Prince Rupert harbour this month in honour of a tugboat captain who died at sea.

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Troy Pearson lost his life on Feb. 11 when the tugboat he was captaining sank in the Gardner Canal en route from Kitimat to Kemano. Also killed was 25-year-old Charley Cragg, a Tsawwassen man who had recently moved to Terrace and was working his first shift on the boat. A third man, 19-year-old Zac Dolan, was rescued after he made it to shore.

The event is being planned for July 31 by Pearson’s widow, Judy Carlick-Pearson, who originally intended to scatter Pearson’s ashes in the harbour a few weeks after his birthday.

“Next thing you know, we had people from the coast guard saying they wanted to be here, as well as guys from the ferries, fishing boats, commercial tugs and the marine union,” she said.

Carlick-Pearson is hoping the event, which will involve the boats forming a wide circle in the harbour while eight bells sound to signal the end of the watch, will bring attention to the continuing investigation into the sinking of the tugboat Ingenika.

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Troy Pearson and wife Judy Carlick-Pearson.
Troy Pearson and wife Judy Carlick-Pearson. Photo by Submitted photo /PNG
Charley Cragg.
Charley Cragg. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

On Feb. 10 — a day on which 11 cold temperature records were broken as B.C. was hit by an Arctic outflow — Pearson, Cragg and Dolan boarded the tugboat despite a forecast of 50-knot winds. The boat, which belonged to Wainwright Marine Services, was towing a barge carrying construction supplies for a multi-year Rio Tinto tunnel project at Kemano designed to guarantee a stable supply of hydroelectric power to the company’s Kitimat aluminum smelter.

RCMP Cpl. Madonna Saunderson said that just after midnight on Feb. 11, an emergency beacon was received from a tugboat in the Gardner Canal. The RCMP vessel Inkster was dispatched from Hartley Bay and found a man dead in the water. The coast guard found a second dead man. A third person was rescued after reaching shore.

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Reached Friday, Saunderson said the RCMP’s investigation into the tugboat sinking comtinues. The Transportation Safety Board said its investigation is still underway as well, with nothing new to say at this time. Postmedia received a similar reply from both WorkSafeBC and the B.C. Coroners Service.

Many in B.C.’s marine community are hoping the four investigations could lead to improved safety regulations in the tow industry. Since 2016, there have been 350 accidents involving tugboats or barges in B.C., including 24 sinkings and two fatalities, according to data collected by the TSB.

The board has been calling on Transport Canada to make safety management systems (SMS) mandatory on all vessels, including small tugboats like the Ingenika, for almost a decade.

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SMS is an internationally recognized framework that allows companies to identify and address safety risks. It can incorporate elements such as safe operating standards, a planned maintenance program, a crew training regime and how to respond to specific emergency situations. Transport Canada already requires SMS for larger vessels.

Other stakeholders, including some B.C. tugboat companies, want to see the tug-to-tow weight ratio regulated.

There are currently no regulations governing the tug-to-tow ratio, which allows small tugs to pull large barges that may be beyond their capabilities, said Jason Woods, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 400.

“You can tow a barge full of logging equipment on a bungee cord if you want to,” he has said.

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Transport Canada has indicated it is working on a number of “new regulatory projects” that will apply to all Canadian vessels, including making SMS mandatory, with a first draft expected in the fall.

Meanwhile, Carlick-Pearson, as well as some coastal First Nations communities, are calling on authorities to raise the Ingenika from the bottom of the Gardner Canal both to prevent environmental damage and determine why the tug sank.

“Without the boat, we won’t really know what happened that night,” she said. “It could be a smoking gun.”

Carlick-Pearson has also started raising funds to start a marine training school in Prince Rupert in honour of her husband. She hopes to teach kids and families about safety on the water, as well as offer the courses needed for a career in the marine industry. Pearson had to travel to Ladner to do his training, she said.

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“It would be better to have something here, closer to home, particularly for Indigenous people who might not want to leave their community for training.”

For more information about the Pearson Marine School of Safety or the memorial event, contact judycarlick@gmail.com.

  1. A family photo of Charley Cragg. The 25-year-old man died when the tugboat he was working on sank near Kitimat in February.

    ‘He’s gone forever:’ Mother of B.C. man killed in tugboat sinking wants answers

  2. Jason Woods, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 400. The union is calling for better federal regulations to make B.C.'s tugboat industry safer.

    Tugboat tragedy raises questions about safety on B.C. coast

  3. Safety concerns have prompted many connected to B.C.'s tugboat industry to call for regulatory changes.

    Federal regulations governing tugboats not ‘up to the task’

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Russia Just Launched a New Science Module to the Space Station – Universe Today

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The International Space Station (ISS) is about to get a little bigger.

On July 21, the Russian Space Agency launched the station’s newest module into orbit aboard a Proton-M rocket. The module, dubbed Nauka (which means science), is the station’s first new module since 2016, aside from some new docking ports and airlocks. The Nauka module includes several important additions that will enhance the station’s capabilities.

One of Nauka’s primary systems is its guidance and navigation abilities, which will provide additional attitude control capabilities to the ISS. At 13 meters long, the module’s interior contains new research facilities and storage space. The module also provides additional sleeping quarters for station crew. This is an important addition, since the United States recently re-established its human spaceflight capabilities with two new spacecraft: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, and the upcoming Boeing Starliner, slated for another test flight later this year. The addition of both new vehicles alongside the Russian Soyuz vehicle means that bigger crews can visit the station at once, and Nauka will provide these larger crews with a home.

Nauka is also carrying one other new piece of technology: a robotic arm built by the European Space Agency. A counterpart to the Canadarm 2 already on station, the European arm is 11 meters long and is designed to ‘walk’ around the Russian segment of the ISS (which the Canadarm can’t reach), carrying out repairs and upgrades as necessary.

Artist’s Rendering of Nauka attached to the Station. Credit: NASA.

Nauka’s development was a troubled process, and it has gone through years of problems and delays. It was first built as a backup to the Zarya module – the first component of the ISS ever launched in 1998. Nauka was set to join its twin in orbit in 2007, but failed to launch then, and was delayed again several times for various reasons, including fuel leaks, expired warranties, and most recently, pandemic delays.

In recent months, political tensions have raised questions as to the extent of Russia’s commitment to its partnership role in ISS. Nauka’s launch, at last, provides some concrete evidence that Russia is indeed committed to maintaining its presence on the station, at least in the short term, which is good news for everyone involved.

Unfortunately, Nauka’s launch didn’t go entirely smoothly. Although it reached orbit and its antenna and solar panels deployed as expected, a computer glitch caused its first orbit-raising maneuver to fail. After some troubleshooting, a second attempt at the maneuver appears to have been successfully carried out by backup thrusters on July 22.

If all goes well from here on out, it should take about a week for Nauka to reach the station. The latest update from the Russian Space Agency indicated that the next orbit raising attempt is scheduled for Tuesday July 27.

Plans are still in place to remove the Pirs docking port from the station this week (which will burn up in the atmosphere) to make room for Nauka, suggesting that confidence is high that the module will arrive as planned.

Learn more: Jeff Foust, “Russia launches Nauka module to International Space StationSpaceNews.

Featured Image: Nauka’s launch on July 21. Roscosmos/NASATV.

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Elon Musk's SpaceX lands NASA launch contract for mission to Jupiter's moon Europa – Euronews

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Elon Musk’s private rocket company SpaceX was awarded a $178 million (€151 million) launch services contract for NASA’s first mission focusing on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa and whether it may host conditions suitable for life, the space agency said on Friday.

The Europa Clipper mission is due for blastoff in October 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket owned by Musk’s company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA said in a statement posted online.

The contract marked NASA’s latest vote of confidence in the Hawthorne, California-based company, which has carried several cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in recent years.

In April, SpaceX was awarded a $2.9 billion (€2.46 billion) contract to build the lunar lander spacecraft for the planned Artemis program that would carry NASA astronauts back to the moon for the first time since 1972.

But that contract was suspended after two rival space companies, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics Inc, protested against the SpaceX selection.

Evidence of life?

The company’s partly reusable 23-story Falcon Heavy, currently the most powerful operational space launch vehicle in the world, flew its first commercial payload into orbit in 2019.

NASA did not say what other companies may have bid on the Europa Clipper launch contract.

The probe is to conduct a detailed survey of the ice-covered Jovian satellite, which is a bit smaller than Earth’s moon and is a leading candidate in the search for life elsewhere in the solar system.

A bend in Europa’s magnetic field observed by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in 1997 appeared to have been caused by a geyser gushing through the moon’s frozen crust from a vast subsurface ocean, researchers concluded in 2018. Those findings supported other evidence of Europa plumes.

Among the Clipper mission’s objectives are to produce high-resolution images of Europa’s surface, determine its composition, look for signs of geologic activity, measure the thickness of its icy shell and determine the depth and salinity of its ocean, NASA said.

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