What is a Light Year?
A light-year is a unit of distance. It is the distance a light photon travels in the vacuum in one Julian year. Denoted by ly, the value of one light-year is constant. The term light-year is often used in astrophysics to measure the distance between two astronomical objects.
Light travels at a velocity of about 300,000 kilometres (km) per second. So in a year, it can travel about 10 trillion km. More precisely, one light-year is equal to 9,500,000,000,000 kilometers. Having said this, you might wonder why would one need such a big unit of distance? In the universe, the measurement in kilometre is too small to be of any use. To better understand the stated, let us consider the following example: the distance between the Milkyway galaxy and the nearest galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy, is 21 quintillion km. This is equal to 21,000,000,000,000,000,000 km. Isn’t this number too large to interpret? For the same reason, in our solar system, we describe distances in terms of the Astronomical Unit (AU). For distances to other parts of the Milky Way Galaxy (or even further), astronomers use units of the light-year or the parsec.
Light Year Conversion
The value of one light-year can be numerically expressed in kilometres as:
One light-year, ly = 9.4607 × 1012 km
- 1 light-year in miles = 5.88 × 1012 miles
- 1 light-year in Astronomical unit = 63241 au.
How many Light Years Away is the Sun?
The Sun is at a distance of 149.6 million kilometres away from earth. Same distance when expressed in terms of the light-year approximates 15.54795 × 10-6 light year.
Thus, the Sun is at a distance of 15.54795 × 10-6 light-years from Earth.
Light-Year is helpful in determining the age of the celestial body
Using a light-year as a distance measurement unit has another advantage — it helps you determine the age! Let us consider a star that is 1 million light-years away. The light from the star has travelled at the speed of light to reach us. Therefore, the star’s light took 1 million years to get to us, and the light that we are seeing was illuminated a million years ago. So the star that we see is really how the star looked a million years ago, not how it looks today. In the same way, our sun is 8 or so light minutes away. If the sun were to suddenly explode right now, we wouldn’t know about it for eight minutes because that is how long it would take for the light of the explosion to get here.
Hope you have learned the value of one light year, along with the value of a light year in various other units.
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