A Thought for You As You Stare Up at the Stars and Ponder the New Year

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All the stars in the sky? That's nothing in the cosmic scheme of things.

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The Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait, points out that even when you look up into the infinitude of the night sky, even on December 31, even when you're out in the middle of nowhere contemplating the future, you're still only seeing a teensy, tiny fraction of all the stars just in our own galaxy.

When you look up at the night sky, it seems it's filled with stars. But you're only seeing a tiny, tiny fraction of all the stars in the Milky Way. Our galaxy is a disk 100,000 light years across, and with only a handful of exceptions, all the stars you see are less than 1000 light years away. Most are far closer than that! At best, you're seeing a few thousand stars out of the hundreds of billions in the Milky Way, a paltry fraction of 0.000003%! 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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