Have you ever stared up at the stars in the night sky and wondered how many there are? If so, you’re not alone. That question has fascinated astronomers, artists and dreamers of all ages since the beginning of time.
Famous astronomer Carl Sagan once estimated that there must be “billions upon billions” of stars in the universe. If you’ve ever tried to count the stars in the night sky, you may have concluded that it would be impossible to count them all.
Guess what? You’d be absolutely right!
The Earth and the sun, along with several other planets, make up a solar system, which is part of a larger grouping of stars called a "galaxy."
Our particular galaxy is known as the Milky Way. Scientists estimate that there are 200 billion to 400 billion — yes, that’s billion with a “b” — stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Our sun is just one of those 200 billion to 400 billion stars.
If your mind is reeling, that’s OK. It’s hard for most people to imagine the size of the universe. Check out this video if you want to see how one person tries to put the size of the universe into perspective.
So how many stars are there? In truth, there are too many to count. Current estimates are just guesses.
Even using our most advanced telescopes and technology, we still cannot see to the ends of our universe. Further complicating things, closer stars that are particularly bright also block our ability to see beyond them in certain directions.
Scientists use observations and data we do have, along with assumptions about our galaxy and the other galaxies in the universe, to estimate the number of stars. Recently, though, some scientists challenged some of the assumptions scientists have been using for years.
The result? Scientists now believe there may be three times more stars than scientists previously estimated.
Why? Astronomers now believe there may be many more red dwarf stars — the most common type of star in the universe — than previously thought.
That’s a 3 with 23 zeroes after it. Any way you look at it, that’s a lot of stars. As technology improves and we get even better glimpses at the far corners of the universe, we may eventually find that the number of stars is even greater than anyone could ever imagine!