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During the first week or so of your physics class, your teacher will most likely talk about the various length scales present in the universe.  These length scales range from very small elementary particles such as electrons, protons, and neutrons with widths of ~5x10-15 meters, to the width of our very own galaxy the Milky Way of ~1.2x1021 meters.  Physicists study all of these length scales, with quantum mechanics studying physical phenomena at microscopic scales, and astrophysics studying the very large objects scattered throughout the universe.  When scientists talk about orders of magnitude, what they are really referring to is the relative difference between two numbers in their power of ten.  For instance, the difference in the power of ten between the width of an elementary particle and the width of the Milky Way is 36 (21-(-15)=36), so we say that these length scales are separated by 36 orders of magnitude. Physics truly studies all physical length... read more

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