Understanding the scale of empty space in the universe requires grappling with vast distances far beyond anything we humans experience.

To simplify a huge number that could quickly fill the width of a page, astronomers adopted the * light-year (LY)* as a

*unit of measurement for distance*that would make the vast expanse of the universe more manageable. But how many years in a light year?

The answer will depend on the moving object’s rate of speed. If the object is traveling at the *speed of light, *then the time it will take to cover the distance of a light year is one Earth year. If traveling at half the speed of light, it would take twice as long, two Earth years, and so forth.

Let’s go over what a light-year represents to get a better understanding of the concept.

#### Key Takeaways

*A light year is a measure of distance equivalent to how far light travels in one single Earth year.**It’s a fundamental unit for expressing astronomical distances, crucial for space exploration and understanding the scale of the universe.**Light years are used to calculate the total distance between space objects, not as a measurement of time in the cosmos.*

## The Concept of a Light-Year

The speed of light, the fastest thing currently known in the universe, travels through the vacuum of space at approximately *186,000 miles**(299,792 km)*** per second**. That means

*during one year here on Earth is about*

**the distance a beam of light travels****.**

*5.87 trillion miles (9.46 trillion km)*The name can be confusing, but it’s essential to understand that ** a light-year is a unit of distance, not a unit of time**. It does not measure a span of years but

**.**

*how far a light photon travels in the span of one year on Earth*It’s a unit of measurement to help everyone better comprehend the huge distances between stars, galaxies, and other celestial objects in space. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

The nearest star to our Sun, *Proxima Centauri*, is about 4.24 light years away from Earth. That means the light from Proxima Centauri takes over four years to reach us! When we look at that star, we’re actually seeing it as it was over four years ago.

But how long would it take you to travel light-years to Proxima Centauri in a spaceship moving at 100 mph (160.9 km)? It would take you a *“never-gonna-get-there”* **6.7 million Earth years just to make it, roughly a quarter of the journey, one light-year**.

Our Milky Way galaxy spans 100,000 light-years. It takes light one hundred thousand Earth years to travel from one edge of the Milky Way to the other side.

So if one-light year is *5.87 trillion miles (9.46 trillion km)* you can understand why expressing distance as 100,000 (ly) is much easier than multiplying 5.87 trillion (9.46 trillion km) by 100,000.

The Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest spiral galaxy to us, is approximately 2.5 million light years away. The light we see from Andromeda has taken two million and five hundred thousand years to reach our eyes. If we had the capability to send a probe traveling at light speed toward Andromeda, it would take 2.5 million years to arrive.

Distances in space are so immense that customary units like miles or kilometers don’t work very well. That’s why astronomers rely on *light-years* and other special units of distance, like *astronomical units* and *parsecs*.

## Measuring Cosmic Distances

Astronomers have several units of measurements they will use depending on how great of a distance needs to be noted.

**Astronomical Units (AU)**

An **astronomical unit** *(AU)* refers to the Earth-Sun distance. *One (AU) equals the distance from the Earth to the Sun – about 93 million miles** (150 million km)*.

It is considered for the notation of smaller units of distance. One light year is roughly 63,241 times greater than an (AU).

**Parsecs**

A **parsec** equals 3.26 light years, around 19 trillion miles (31 trillion kilometers).

This term originated from the method of parallax, where one parsec is the distance at which an astronomical object would appear to shift by one arcsecond against the backdrop of more distant stars in the Earth’s six-month orbital traverse.

The concept of parsecs is essential for communicating astronomical distances beyond our solar system and throughout the galaxy, providing a standardized measurement for interstellar space.

**Light Years & **

**Light Minutes**

As we discussed earlier, a light-year represents the distance of 5.87 trillion miles (9.46 trillion km). But there are times when describing shorter distances, it is easier to express a distance in light minutes.

It’s the distance light travels during minutes here on Earth. An example is 186,000/miles per second multiplied by the number of seconds in a minute (60 seconds) = 11,160,000 mi.

The ** average distance to Mars from Earth is 139,808,475 miles**. It could also be

**.**

*expressed as 12.5 light minutes*### How to Calculate the Distance of One Light Year

**The formula to calculate ****the distance of 1 light-year is:**

(d) Distance = (r) Rate x (t) Time

**Our variables are:**

Speed of light = (r)

Distance of Light = (d)

Time = (t)

**This equation would look like:**

Speed of light x 1 Earth Year

= Distance of a light year

**Since we know the speed of light, ****let’s calculate how many seconds in a year:**

60 seconds x 60 minutes = 3600/secs in 1 hour

3600 seconds x 24 hours = 86,400 secs in 1 day

86,400 seconds x 365 days

= 31,536,000 seconds 1 year.

**Now we have our time variable:**

Rate x Time = Distance

186,000/mps x 31,536,000/spy = *5.87 Trillion Miles*

Here is a light-year calculator.

## Conclusion

To understand how many years in a light year first remember** a light-year is always a measurement of distance and not time**. Astronomers will use light-years, light-minutes, parsecs, and astronomical units to express these unimaginable distances in our beautiful, mysterious universe.

So, the answer to how many years in a light year will always depend on how fast the object is moving. How many years to travel 20 light-years? At the speed of light 20 Earth years. At the speed of ** Voyager 1** (37,132/mph),

**18,065 years**. So its all relative to speed.

Anything less than the speed of light will take many, many years to make the incredibly long distant journey of a light-year.