The universe in five minutes


“What are you doing?” asks Amber, five minutes before we’re due to leave for school.

“I’m watching a quick video about what will happen to the sun when it gets old.”

(Don’t ask – I was reading a news story online about SpaceX and got distracted – you know how that goes)

Nebula
A nebula

“What is going to happen to it?”

“Well, it’s going to puff up into what’s called a red giant, and it’ll get so big that it’ll swallow up the Earth. It’ll puff off lots of material and make a beautiful nebula – like this.”

“Will we still be here?”

“No, this won’t happen for a long long long long time. Something like four billion years. The Earth is four and a half billion years old now, so it’s as long as the Earth has been here already. Anyway, little one, it’s nearly school time, shall we go downstairs?”

“Will it swallow up Mercury?”

“Yes, Mercury’s the closest planet to the sun. It’ll swallow up Mercury, Venus and the Earth.”

“What about Saturn?”

“Nope, Saturn will be fine.”

“So we could go to Saturn?”

“Yes, but this won’t happen for another four BILLION years, which is a loooong time. Anything could happen before then.”

Neptune
Neptune. Very cold.

“What about Neptune? That’s my favourite planet.”

“Neptune will be fine, too, Amb. Space is absolutely gigantically unbelievably enormous, so if we’re still around we could move to another planet. Anyway, come on, downstairs. We need to get your coat on.”

“How big is space, Daddy?”

(This girl knows how to push my nerdy space buttons!)

“I… It’s… Well, that is a really good question, my love. No one knows. We do know that it’s really really really big – bigger than anyone can imagine – but we don’t know if it goes on forever. If it doesn’t go on forever then it’s hard to think what might be outside it. If it does go on forever then, well, that’s just as hard to imagine.”

“Neptune is really cold, you know.”

“It’s one of the coldest places in the Solar System, poppet. But surprisingly, it has really strong winds – some of the strongest in the Solar System.”

Hurricane
Hurricane. NOT colder than deep space

“Like a hurricane. Hurricanes are really cold because they’re so windy.”

“Hmm, well, no, not as cold as Neptune. Come on, get your coat on.”

“Neptune is colder than a hurricane?!”

“What? Yes. Much colder. Hurricanes feel cold to us because of the water evaporating from… Wait, look, get your shoes on. We’ll have to finish this discussion tonight…”

I bet Professor Brian Cox doesn’t have these problems.

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