Far is a short word to describe a long distance. From here to the moon is a 238,000-mile, four-day trip. It's 48 light years from here to one of the possible new planets -- sighted last month by two Canadian astronomers -- near the star Gamma Cephei. That's far by most standards. But for astronomers who measure distances relative to a universe ad infinitum, that's close.

"Going to Alpha Centauri {the closest star to Earth} would be like going to the corner drugstore," says Geoff Chester of the Einstein Planetarium at the National Air & Space Museum. "Going to Gamma Cephei would be like going to the grocery store."

How far is 48 light years? At 6.2 trillion miles per light year, it equals 297.6 trillion miles, making the stretch to the closer of the two possible planets the astronomers spotted -- about 11 light years from the sun -- seem somehow more manageable.

Not that it is, of course. Science still is far from inventing spacecraft that can travel at the speed of light. America's Voyager I, for instance, cruises at about 35,000 miles an hour in the hinterlands of our solar system. But it would have to go nearly 20,000 times faster to catch up with the speed of light.

Even if man could overcome the engineering obstacles of light-speed travel, there still is the problem of time. If you left today for Gamma Cephei at light speed, got there and returned to Earth, America would already have celebrated its Tricentennial.

Jim Sharp of the Einstein Planetarium draws a unique perspective on the distances in our universe. If you held an aspirin in the middle of Washington to represent the Sun, the next four planets, he says, would be within a foot. Jupiter would be two feet away; Neptune and Pluto, 60 feet away. Alpha Centauri would be in Richmond. And Gamma Cephei would be in Miami.

Now, from our point of view:

The Summer Triangle of stars dominate the evening sky this month. Altair, Vega and Deneb remain high overhead in the eastern sky.

Catch Saturn, the brightest evening planet, by facing South this summer. Saturn's brightness approaches zero magnitude. It is in the southwest after sundown.

Earth reaches the farthest point in its annual orbit around the Sun Friday. Astronomers call this aphelion, which puts the Earth about 94 million miles from the big solar ball. But just because Earth is so far from the Sun won't make summer in Washington any cooler.

The summer season reaches halftime August 1, when the Sun straddles midway between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator.

For cosmic events closer to home, the Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum is open until 9 p.m. throughout the summer. Each Friday night is Fly-By-Night Family Night, from 6 to 9 p.m. Admission is free. The highlights for July:

July 10 -- While the theme is "Space Quest," Jim Sharp, director of the planetarium, will also talk about the summer night sky. Guests will get a chance to handle authentic astronaut gear.

July 17 -- Lillian Kosloski, a space expert from the museum, highlights America's best-dressed astronauts, as family night tips its space helmet to the 12th anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz docking.

July 24 -- Dress as your favorite astronaut or alien to help the museum celebrate National Space Week. This isn't a contest -- just for fun.

July 31 -- "Weather or Not" is a salute to the satellites that help us predict atmospheric conditions. A spokesman from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be on hand to discuss how broken satellites are repaired.

And one more related sky event:

July 11 -- The Einstein Planetarium's Chester explains the history and the background of the Milky Way in his lecture "A Hundred Million Suns." At the planetarium, 9:30 a.m. Admission is free.