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Astronomy 2e

Figuring for Yourself

Astronomy 2eFiguring for Yourself

Figuring for Yourself


Suppose astronomers discover a radio message from a civilization whose planet orbits a star 35 light-years away. Their message encourages us to send a radio answer, which we decide to do. Suppose our governing bodies take 2 years to decide whether and how to answer. When our answer arrives there, their governing bodies also take two of our years to frame an answer to us. How long after we get their first message can we hope to get their reply to ours? (A question for further thinking: Once communication gets going, should we continue to wait for a reply before we send the next message?)


The light a planet receives from the Sun (per square meter of planet surface) decreases with the square of the distance from the Sun. So a planet that is twice as far from the Sun as Earth receives (1/2)2 = 0.25 times (25%) as much light and a planet that is three times as far from the Sun receives (1/3)2 = 0.11 times (11%) as much light. How much light is received by the moons of Jupiter and Saturn (compared to Earth), worlds which orbit 5.2 and 9.5 times farther from the Sun than Earth?


Think of our Milky Way Galaxy as a flat disk of diameter 100,000 light-years. Suppose we are one of 1000 civilizations, randomly distributed through the disk, interested in communicating via radio waves. How far away would the nearest such civilization be from us (on average)?

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