The sun's average distance from the earth is about 91,500,000 miles. Since the orbit of the earth is elliptical, and the sun is situated at one of its foci, the earth is nearly 3,000,000 miles further from the sun in aphelion than in perihelion. As we attempt to locate the heavenly bodies in space, we are immediately startled by the enormous figures employed.
The first number, 91,500,000 miles, is far beyond our grasp. Let us try to comprehend it. If there were air to convey a sound from the sun to the earth, and a noise could be made loud enough to pass that distance it would require over fourteen years for it to come to us.
Suppose a railroad could be built to the sun. An express train traveling day and night at the rate of thirty miles an hour, would require 341 years to reach its destination. Ten generations would be born and would die; the young men would become gray haired, and their great-grandchildren would forget the story of the beginning of that wonderful journey, and could find it only in history, as we now read of Queen Elizabeth or of Shakespeare; the eleventh generation would see the solar depot at the end of the route.
Yet this enormous distance of 91,500,000 miles is used as the unit for expressing celestial distances--as the foot-rule for measuring space; and astronomers speak of so many times the sun's distance as we speak of so many feet or inches.