A buddy of mine (thanks Cory) works in a planetarium. Recently, he emailed me some things he'd learned while doing research for a new exhibit.
Our sun, and indeed our entire solar system, revolves in a big ellipse (much like a race car track) around the center of our galaxy the Milky Way. Even though we're moving very fast, the distances involved are huge so it takes 225 to 250 million years to take ONE trip around the galaxy. To scale it down a bit, we can say it takes about 1,190 years to travel one light year.
To put that into perspective in terms of distance, the nearest star to us is Proxima Centauri at 4.24 light years away. And the brightest star we see in the night sky is Sirius, which is 8.7 lights years off. Thinking about these distances helps us understand why scientists and science fiction writers are so interested in faster-than-light speed travel.
Cory also sent me data that helps put this journey around the galaxy in historical terms, which is sometimes easier to wrap my brain around than the distances. Since 821 AD, we've traveled approximately 1 light year. We've sailed about 2 light years since 368 BC, which would be the time of ancient Greece. From the time the Egyptians built the Great Pyramid, we've traveled 5 to 6 light years. And since people were engaged in organized farming in the Indus Valley 9500 years ago to now, we've made it about 8 light years.
Cory also mentioned a theory that when our solar system moves through the more densely packed spiral arms of the Milky Way, these visits may coincide with mass extinctions on Earth due to what he called 'impact events.' This ties in with the idea that a massive meteor may have killed off the dinosaurs. Don't freak out, though. We won't revisit those areas for many, many years.
When we sit and think about all this, we may realize the scope of human history is very small. And the universe around us is vast. But here we are, zooming through space in an amazing, perfect little cocoon--planet Earth.
(Thanks to Cory for the facts. Hopefully I didn't mangle them. The pic is of the center of the Milky Way and is from: Stephane Guisard at space.com)