The universe is everything. It includes all of space, and all the matter and energy that space contains. It even includes time itself and, of course, it includes you.
Earth and the Moon are part of the universe, as are the other planets and their many dozens of moons. Along with asteroids and comets, the planets orbit the Sun. The Sun is one among hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and most of those stars have their own planets, known as exoplanets.
The Milky Way is but one of billions of galaxies in the observable universe — all of them, including our own, are thought to have supermassive black holes at their centers. All the stars in all the galaxies and all the other stuff that astronomers can’t even observe are all part of the universe. It is, simply, everything.
Though the universe may seem a strange place, it is not a distant one. Wherever you are right now, outer space is only 62 miles (100 kilometers) away. Day or night, whether you’re indoors or outdoors, asleep, eating lunch or dozing off in class, outer space is just a few dozen miles above your head. It’s below you too. About 8,000 miles (12,800 kilometers) below your feet — on the opposite side of Earth — lurks the unforgiving vacuum and radiation of outer space.
In fact, you’re technically in space right now. Humans say “out in space” as if it’s there and we’re here, as if Earth is separate from the rest of the universe. But Earth is a planet, and it’s in space and part of the universe just like the other planets. It just so happens that things live here and the environment near the surface of this particular planet is hospitable for life as we know it. Earth is a tiny, fragile exception in the cosmos. For humans and the other things living on our planet, practically the entire cosmos is a hostile and merciless environment.
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