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Counting the Stars

December 28th, 2010

Could you imagine if it was your job to count how many stars are in the Universe? 1, 2, 3 … keep going! Right now they’re thinking there’s between 200-400 billion stars in our galaxy alone! It was recently reported that maybe they counted wrong and for every one star there’s actually three. Whoops!

Dwarf stars are circled

It turns out there are Dwarf Stars that are really hard to see, if not impossible, so astronomers need to estimate (make a really good guess based on what they know).

Usually they’re good at estimating, but thankfully the telescopes and computers have been getting better, and scientists are thinking about problems in different ways. In this case, they used our Milky Way spiral-shaped galaxy and the way the Dwarf stars are spread out and they used that to guess how many stars would be in the other galaxies. The problem is that there are different kinds of galaxies, and in the elliptical-shaped kind (oval-shaped) , it seems, has way more dwarf stars than in the spiral galaxies like ours. About one third of all the galaxies are elliptical so it really changes the amount.

Why does this matter? It matters because it can help us understand how our Universe was formed. And if this new theory is true then the Universe formed much earlier and faster than we thought.

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