I caught a few minutes of a History Channel program on Copernicus and a couple of other astronomer/mathematicians last night. Since they offered no explanation for why the planets in a solar system have elliptical orbits, I thought I’d spend a few minutes this evening looking for an answer. So far, I haven’t been able to come up with an explanation I could understand, since everything I could find involved lots of mathematical formulas. That’s disappointing, though not surprising, but I did learn a couple of other interesting facts.

1. The earth maintains an average distance from the sun of about 93,000,000 miles. Due to its eliptical orbit, it is about 3,000,000 miles closer to the sun during the month of January. The speed of earth’s orbit also varies, with maximum speed when the earth is closest to the sun.

2. The Milky Way is comprised of about 200 billion stars.

3. Light Year: The distance light travels in a year at about the speed of light is about 670,616,629.2 miles per hour. (Thanks Walt!) This is about 5,880,000,000,000 miles. Doesn’t this translate to 5 trillion, 880 billion miles in a year? Isn’t it about the same as our federal budget deficit?

So, I’m pretty sure that the elliptical orbit is related to the variation in speed as planets move closer, then further from the sun, though I wish I understood the whole thing a little better. Damn, I wish I could take an astronomy class. However, I’m out of time, so I’ll have to sneak in a little Googling over my lunch hour tomorrow.

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Walt(23:49:00) :Sound travels at about 671 mph (in air, at sea level. The medium makes a difference). Light travels at about 300 000 000 meters per second, or about 186 000 miles per second.

The sun is thus 93 000 000 divided by 186 000 or 500 light-seconds away, or about 8 and a third light minutes. By way of contrast, you are about one on thousandth of a light second from Wichita, maybe one one hundred thousandth of a light second from the campanille, and approximately 6 trillion light centuries from Dick Cheney, but somewhat closer to Lon Chaney. I don’t have the whole answer to the elipse question, but note that a circle is a special kind of elipse.