Galaxy Song


Galaxy Song

The Galaxy Song is an upbeat if somewhat nihilistic song from the movie "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life", later released on the album "Monty Python Sings". The song appears near the end of the movie, when Eric Idle climbs out of a refrigerator and begins singing.

The lyrics include a number of astronomical facts, and (within the limits imposed by creative licence), the figures tend to be tolerably accurate. Eric Idle sings that the Earth is "revolving at nine hundred miles an hour"; the actual figure (at the equator) is 1,038 [ [http://ask.yahoo.com/20020411.html How fast does the Earth spin in miles per hour? - Ask Yahoo!] ] . He gives the Earth's orbital speed as convert|19|mi|km per second, compared with the real figure of 18 to 18.5 [ [http://searchcio-midmarket.techtarget.com/sDefinition/0,,sid183_gci849653,00.html What is Earth's mean orbital speed? - a definition from Whatis.com] ] [ [http://members.aol.com/nlpjp/speed.htm Earth's Speed, Jerry Pool's amateur astronomy website] ] [ [http://galileoandeinstein.physics.virginia.edu/lectures/spedlite.html The Speed of Light, University of Virginia] ] .

He states that the Sun is "the source of all our power". In fact, geothermal power does not stem from the Sun, while tidal power derives mostly from the Moon. Ultimately, however, the overwhelming proportion of human-generated power derived from fossil fuels and thence from photosynthetic plants makes this line a very good approximation to the truth.

Idle's figures for the size of the Milky Way galaxy are roughly correct. He understates the speed at which the Sun orbits the "galactic central point", but he gives a good estimate for the total time per orbit ("two hundred million years" according to the song, compared with accepted figures of 220 to 250 million years [ [http://hypertextbook.com/facts/2002/StacyLeong.shtml Period of the Sun's Orbit around the Galaxy (Cosmic Year), HyperTextbook.com] ] [ [http://www.justforkidsonly.com/rref6xdistinspace.htm Ready Reference, JustForKidsOnly.com] ] ).

The song goes on to say that we are "thirty thousand light years from galactic central point". In fact, the Sun is more like 25 000 light years from the centre of the Milky Way [http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/ast122/lectures/lec25.html Milky Way Galaxy, University of Oregon] ] . It also states that the galaxy is "a hundred thousand light years side to side". This would make the galactic radius 50 000 light years, which is accurate.

Australian astrophysicist, Bryan Gaensler, has even stated that Eric's estimation of the thickness of the Milky Way, at 16,000 light years, is more accurate than the official 'textbook' figure of 6,000 light years. [ [http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/186976,milky-way-twice-as-thick-as-thought.html Milky Way twice as thick as thought, The Earth Times, 20 Feb 08] ] However, the song's position on this has now been confused by Eric's recent performance of the song which forms part of his Not the Messiah show where the figure he sings is only 6,000 light years. [ [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85IGr-yVv_M Eric Idle Galaxy Song from Not The Messiah finale at Hollywood Bowl 8-2-08] ] The reason for the confusion has since been explained in a message from Eric on the official Monty Python website, [http://pythonline.com Pythonline.com] :

"...There was some smug website pulling apart all my original figures for the song (written circa 1981) so for the 2003 Tour (or maybe 2000) I "updated" them. Now you tell me I was right all along! Not sure where I got my figures originally but tell the bastards to make up their minds." [ [http://pythonline.com/blogs/johnalexwood/6_or_16_thousand_light_years_thick 6 or 16 thousand light years thick?] ]

The penultimate verse explains that the universe is expanding, and furthermore that the speed of light is the "fastest speed there is". Idle's estimate is a good one: 12 million miles per minute, versus the standard figure of about 11.16 million miles per minute [ [http://everything2.com/index.pl?node=Speed%20of%20light speed of light@Everything2.com] ] .

References

External links

* [http://ephemeris.sjaa.net/0312/b.html A study of the Galaxy song]
* [http://alpha.lasalle.edu/~smithsc/Astronomy/Galaxy_Song/galaxy_song.html Annotations to the Galaxy song]
* [http://www.pythonline.com Pythonline]


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