The Sky at Night

Heavenly bodies


The Sun is burning up. Fast. It shrinks in diameter by 5 feet every hour. Can't possibly last more than - oh - another three hundred and eighty million years or so. Better start packing.

How are you off for elbow room? There are many people on Earth who might or might not worry about the Sun shrinking. According to 1994 figures in the United States there are 71 to the square mile; in Mexico there are 121; and in China 315. Other countries get a little more crowded; India has 700 to each square mile, and Rwanda 806. Singapore and Hong Kong are even more crowded, but those are really city states.

If you fly from London to New York by Concord, you travel very fast. In fact you arrive two hours before you leave. Something to do with time zones or sundials or the price of cheese, I believe.

The Earth weighs 6,588,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons. If you don't believe me, I don't blame you.

There is about 200 times more gold in the world's oceans, than has been mined in our entire history. The average cubic mile of sea water contains eight tons of gold. If I could only work out how to extract it I'd not be forced to spend my time inventing ridiculous factoids like this one.

How's the fuel consumption on your car? The cruise liner, Queen Elizabeth 2, moves only six inches for each gallon of diesel that it burns. But there are probably more people on board than you could fit in your Toyota.

Every year there are more than fifty thousand earthquakes. Never felt one? Well watch the sky; there are six thousand lightning strikes somewhere or other every minute.

The average ice berg weighs 20,000,000 tons. As the passenger on the Titanic said, "I know I asked for ice in my scotch, but this is ridiculous".

At the start of 1998 the Greenwich Time Signal was not the same as usual. Each day is 0.00000002 of a second longer than the one before because the Earth is gradually slowing down. To get midnight back exactly where it belonged, the year had to be one second longer than 1997. The usual time signal of six pips was augmented by a seventh.