Thursday, November 20, 2014

Light-Years or Years?

My 7 year old recently brought home a book titled "First Space Encyclopedia".  It looks very cool and appears to be packed full of space-based information.  She just checked it out, so we haven't read much of it yet, but this morning while waiting for the bus, we read through the first page.  Each page has a fact question at the bottom with an answer on the next page.  The fact question on the first page was:

Q:  How old is the Universe?

Cool!  A very important question.  The answer?

A:  The Universe is just under 14 billion light-years old.

Um....????  What?  The "just under 14 billion" part is fine.  That's correct.  The age of the Universe is 13.8 billion ___________.  The key part is the unit that goes in that blank.  A light-year is NOT a unit of time.  A light-year is a unit of distance and describes how far away something is.  The edge of the Universe is 13.8 billion LIGHT-YEARS away, but that is not the same thing as age.  The answer to the question needed to be "just under 14 billion YEARS old."

It may seem like I'm being nit-picky here and making a big deal over nothing.  I argue that I'm not.  This may seem like a small thing, but this is how misconception develop, fester, and spread through society.  Whoever edited this book made a big mistake and thousands of kids will read this book and develop a misconception over the term "light-year".  It's a shame because the rest of the book looks great!

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