The universe has 100 billion galaxies, with 100 billion stars in each galaxy

There are 100 billion galaxies, with 100 billion stars in each galaxy, in the universe.  It’s a ridiculously large number of stars when you add it all up.  It’s a figure that’s always amazed me, ever since I was kid watching Carl Sagan on TV.

The view from the Hubble Telescope.

The view from the Hubble Telescope.

It’s also why, even though I’m not convinced there’s anything near us, I am convinced that we’re not alone.  Having said that, it’s been theorized that even if we aren’t alone, it’s not entirely clear that another civilization would be nearby, at our equal stage of development (so that we could communicate electronically), or that the other civilizations would even exist at exactly the same time that we exist – meaning, something existed a long time ago, died off, we existed, then we die off, then another civilization peaks somewhere else.

And let’s not even get into the problem that the immense distances pose.  We could receive a signal from a distant civilization, but it might have been sent a million years ago.  Would they even still exist, let alone even if they did, what would they be like after a million years of civilization?

Anywhere this video about the Hubble telescope, and the Ultra Deep Field, got me thinking of these matters.  I’ve always loved astronomy.  And these kind of videos reignite that passion for me, big time.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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54 Responses to “The universe has 100 billion galaxies, with 100 billion stars in each galaxy”

  1. dcinsider says:

    I am mistaken. You have frequently referred to your Greek church so I assumed you were still a believer.

  2. dcinsider says:

    For me it has little to do with scale. There is simply no evidence that god exists. Thus, he does not exist (at least until proven scientifically). You see, religious belief is based on faith. The faith is that something you cannot see or prove to exist not only exists, but is some sort of benevolent creator. That’s all fine and dandy, but beyond that humans begin to make up rules that this god is alleged to have imparted upon us. So someone whose existence cannot be proven has carved out a set of rules by which we must all follow, or receive some sort of terrible punishment. Of course those rules differ by culture, as does the definition of god. So, a bunch of humans decide to explain the universe and its creation by saying that some guy who looks like a Woodstock attendee is god, and he decided all this stuff, so we just follow what some guy says he said.

    Now, to the original point. When we look to understand the universe, and to appreciate the vastness of space, and the elasticity of time, he concept of god, and the religious bases for his existence, fades. God is not watching over our planet, or out PGA Tour event, or whether the Bruins win the Stanley Cup, because if he did exist, he apparently has a hell of a lot of other planets to concern himself with :).

  3. Rob Lewis says:

    Why we’ll never meet aliens:

    Shorter version: if there are any aliens with the ability to visit us, they almost assuredly will not care to.

    A fun read.

  4. pappyvet says:

    Great ! I’m Irish,where’s the Scotch?

  5. Miao Yu says:

    You may be onto something…I’d always thought I felt like I came from another world.

  6. Island In The Sky says:

    I’ve been aware of this speculative tech, but I’m referring to current, existing, implementable technology. Sure would be amazing to be able to reach that distance in our lifetime, though.

  7. B00ZED says:

    As for M Forth, (s)he should have her/his nose checked. Those “whiffs” are not sending the proper signals to it’s brain.

  8. bobroberts says:

    Or for another perspective, there are about one half mole of stars, i.e. the same as the number of atoms in six grams of carbon.

  9. Well there’s also the issue of how can something finite be growing if the finite thing is all there is, in other words it doesn’t just define itself, it defines the size of the container of everything that’s out there. So if there’s nothing outside of our universe, then what does our universe expand into?

  10. I’m agnostic

  11. B00ZED says:

    We can only estimate the number and you are right in your reply, it’s an estimate. In you article, you plop the figures out there as though they are cast in stone. That’s all I meant. As for the Forth, (s)he should have her/his nose checked. Those “whiffs” are not sending the proper signals to it’s brain.

  12. Monoceros Forth says:

    I’ll try to be more specific although I think in doing so I’m limiting the general point I’m trying to make.

    Unless I misunderstand you, your assertion is (put baldly), “Physically the Earth is very small in comparison to the size of the Universe. Therefore there is no God.” This is a non sequitur based on certain predetermined assumptions about the nature of the Universe. I hope I’m not stretching the truth too much to assume that your line of thinking is roughly as follows: “If there were an omnipotent God to whom humanity was of paramount importance then he would have made the Earth physically important–bigger or more centrally located or whatnot. This is not the case, therefore there is no God.” I’m asking you to consider the presuppositions you are bringing to this interpretation of the evidence.

    Insofar as I understand the notion of God (at least in the sense that, say, C.S. Lewis considered the concept), God exists outside of material definitions of space and time. Therefore an argument for or against the existence of God based on a difference in material size is not a relevant one: one could assert that to God the significance of an entity has no bearing whatever on its physical properties (size or anything else) because God exists outside of those confines. But any consideration of whether any entity at all has “value” or “significance” that exists apart from its physical properties is essentially outside of physical science, hence “metaphysical”.

    Certainly even in daily life it is not true that things are of personal insignificance merely because they look small far off. If there really is a “personal God” (and I’m not saying there is) is it so silly to imagine that the
    same might be true on a larger scale?

  13. karmanot says:

    Are you ‘stringing ‘ us along Mono?

  14. karmanot says:


  15. karmanot says:

    “But the one god concept is as illusory and nonsensical as the multiple gods theory.” Bingo!

  16. dcinsider says:

    See, you prove my point. If there was a god, I’d understand what you are saying ;)

  17. Monoceros Forth says:

    There actually is no logical way to get from, “This entity is physically small,” to, “This entity is metaphysically insignificant.”

  18. Monoceros Forth says:

    The Multiverse is a thoroughly untestable and therefore unscientific idea, not really worth wasting any thought upon, although it’s gained a weird currency.

  19. dcinsider says:

    John, how can you contemplate this and still hang on to your religious beliefs? This is where I cannot fathom that intelligent people believe any religion. It’s such sheer nonsense when you contemplate the expanse of our universe, let alone the 100 million other universes. I have religious friends (OK acquaintances) who will tell you that the Greeks were so stupid to believe in so many gods, when everyone knows there is one god. But the one god concept is as illusory and nonsensical as the multiple gods theory.

    I ask not to criticize but to understand. In the vastness of space, holding to an ancient concept that some fairy godfather in the sky created everything, and if we pray to him he will listen, and then when we die we will go to some heaven is the single most bizarre and indefensible fantasy I can think of.

    And worse is that these absurdly insane fantasies, which we call organized religion, then judge me and my life by their weird, made up rules. The more you consider it, the more absurd it gets.

  20. dcinsider says:

    I have a headache.

  21. UncleBucky says:

    Well, right… Finite in that there is only so much… But growing??? In space? then there’s the issue of the 96% dark matter and dark energy…. is that growing?

    But at any rate, I highly favor (with no data, haha) the Multiverse idea. That our Universe is finite somehow, and only measurable from within its own rules, but that it’s part of an infinite Multiverse that either leaks into this Universe or parts of the Universe leak out to the Multiverse.

    It seems right. But we’ll likely never be able to verify it.

  22. Monoceros Forth says:

    Yeah, there’s an odor to Nick Nolte’s comment there, a whiff of a commonplace anti-intellectual notion that you see in many forms. “Those wacky scientists, what do they really know? They just make up stuff and people believe them because they’re scientists.” Extra points if the “scientists said bumblebees can’t fly” canard is brought up.

  23. I think it’s accepted that it’s finite at some point, no? Though growing at the moment.

  24. Sorry, I meant undocumented extra-terrestrials. ;-)

  25. So you’re saying Chinese are aliens… that would explain a lot.

  26. Actually, as Sane explained below, and if you watch the video, this is a lower estimate, but it’s a good one. With the Hubble Deep Field they were able to select a specific small corner of the sky, that didn’t look like it has much of anything in it, then let the camera run for 10 days, and they were shocked at the number of distant galaxies they found. It’s then pretty basic math to extrapolate from how many galaxies there are in x% of the sky to how many galaxies there are in 100% of the sky. It’s not exact, but it’s a clear lower limit. And that’s useful because, to most people, the idea that there are not only 100 billion galaxies like our own – keep in mind, the Milky Way is our galaxy, we’re not talking mere solar systems – we’re talking the Milky Way has 100 bn suns like our own, and then that there are at least 100bn more galaxies like our own, with at least 100bn more stars in each, is to me pretty shocking and unsettling, and cool. So yes, it’s likely a lower estimate – though not a higher one – and it’s incredibly illustrative and educational. So I’m not sure I get your point, unless we’re having one of those “Dino the dinosaur actual lived with Fred Flintston” discussions.

  27. confusion says:

    There are more stars in Bollywood..

  28. sane37 says:

    Counting the galaxies and counting the stars in the nearest galaxies, then extrapolating using statistical methods.

    The Milky Way, the galaxy Earth (alone with our solar system) is part of, has about 300 billion. Andromeda has about 5 times as many and is estimated at 1 trillion stars. The 100 billion x 100 billion number is an estimate made by averaging the numbers of what has been observed so far.

    Before the advent of more sophisticated telescopes (particularly the Hubble and newer scopes) we could not “see” or measure the presence of most of the Universe. Science is still studying this and the numbers will get more accurate over time. The numbers will probably increase as we get better instruments to measure what’s there.

    Nothing in science is exact. It is the accumulation of consistent, observable data that leads us to the truth. The best part about Scientific method is that it is self correcting.

  29. Indigo says:

    You mind reader!

  30. Indigo says:

    The most persuasive part of Carl Sagan’s show, for me, was that soaring Space Odyssey music in the background. I believed every word as if scriptural, still do. Loved it! But here on Earth, we’re carefully building a complete distopia reminiscent of the sets in ‘Bladerunner’ and we slide along blithely, as if all were well. It isn’t. Space Odyssey music, I’ve come to suspect, is not enough.

  31. B00ZED says:

    How does you or anyone else KNOW there are 100 billion galaxies with 100 billion stars each? Isn’t it a stretch to make such a statement? No one can doubt there are gobs of galaxies containing gobs of stars but to put an exact count to something so huge and complex is bullshit.

  32. HolyMoly says:

    10 sextillion stars…an almost incomprehensible number.

    It’s kind of amazing to think about the possibility that an intelligent species evolved, flourished, possibly advanced far beyond where we are today, and then ceased to exist…all millions or even billions of years before us. Before our sun even existed. The Drake Equation speculates on the number of current civilizations in just our galaxy alone, though of course most of the variables are unknown. But the speculation is still very interesting!

    I read somewhere a long time ago, if you have some sort of task that has one in a billion odds, like rolling snake eyes 50 or 100 times in a row, you could roll dice all your life and never accomplish it; but issue a set of dice to each of a billion Chinese, and you’d likely accomplish it in a relatively short period of time. So even if the odds of intelligent life — or any kind of life — evolving are one in a billion or even one in a trillion, that would still add up to quite a few, considering the number of stars out there.

  33. mark_in_toronto says:

    It’s too bad that 1 billionth of a percent of earthlings even know what a galaxy is.

  34. UncleBucky says:

    Big question, tho.

    Is the Universe in its numbers FINITE or INFINITE?

    In other words, 100 billion x 100 billion = a finite number.

    So, what’s the answer? :)

  35. dagman says:

    John. The “Expanding Universe” series on the science channel covers this kind of stuff. I think I am a smart guy until I see them interview some of the Astro-Physicists!

  36. karmanot says:

    Still, exists that awesome sense of wonder carried from childhood to the present moment. Great post John!

  37. Mark_in_MN says:

    The post’s first sentence reminded me of this (for a iittle frivolity):

    Yakko’s Universe Song

    “It’s a great big universe and we’re all really puny. We’re just tiny little specks about the size of Mickey Rooney.”

  38. BeccaM says:

    Thanks, Pete. :-)

  39. PeteWa says:

    wow, nice link.

  40. BeccaM says:

    Then there’s the possibility of actual warp-drive, based on the Alcubierre design. A spaceship contained within a bubble of space-time, and thus having no upper limit as to how fast it could go.

    Of course, they still have to deal with the nova-sized explosion that current theory suggest would result when you drop out of warp…

  41. BeccaM says:

    There’s been some interesting theories lately, that if we can find certain positional anomalies and empty gaps between the galaxies in a particular shape, it might indicate an area where our universe is bumping up against another universe within the quantum foam.

  42. BeccaM says:

    *raises her hand*

  43. BeccaM says:

    This is the video I love, from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. It’s a flight through 400,000 of the galaxies we can see from here on Earth.

    When we imagine the immensity of just one of those galaxies, and the fact we’ve barely begun exploring our own solar system — talk about feeling small and insignificant.

  44. Drew2u says:

    Who else read that in the Hawking monotone, synthesized computer voice?

  45. Bob Munck says:

    Or as Zombie Hawking put it: “Branes! Branes!!”

  46. Drew2u says:

    I always figure that the singularity of matter inside a black hole shrinks down upon its self until, similar to an electron disappearing and reappearing, it slips through the quantum foam and, free from the restrictions of the black hole – BANG!

  47. Bob Munck says:

    You missed one minor factor: our universe contains 100 billion galaxies with 100 billion stars each, …

                      and there may well be 100 billion universes.  

  48. Dave of the Jungle says:

    This is based on an estimate of the extent of the observable universe. The reality is possibly many orders of magnitude larger than this.

  49. EdA says:

    And all of it created in a single night, 5000 years ago, according to a number of the delusional and deluded sociopaths on the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology who control the federal budget on science and technology.

  50. Zachary Smith says:

    We can do considerably better than that.

    With even the crudest kind of human hibernation, a person might live to make it to Alpha Centauri.

  51. Zachary Smith says:

    Just the other day I was cataloging some old Scientific American files and one of them was titled “The Lost Galaxies”. Right under the title was this: “By the latest estimate, the observable universe contains 200 billion galaxies. Astronomers wonder: Why so few?”

    It’s my impression that despite all the progress we humans have made, we’re still at the very beginning of understanding.

  52. Naja pallida says:

    Beeeeeeellions upon beeeeeellions.

  53. Our galaxy has more than the number of stars quoted here, between 200 and 400 billion. What blows my mind is the number of planets and moons in just our galaxy, and the likely not so insignificant fraction thereof which harbor life.

  54. Island In The Sky says:

    The thing that blows my mind? It would take well over 10,000 years – given our current technology – to reach the nearest star away from our Solar System.

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