Is the section in Reish Lakish's answer that lists Hash-m numbering stars meant to be aggadic or representing actual stars?
The total number of stars according to Resh Lakish is
In the times that the Talmud was written, contemporary scientists believed there were a total of about 4,000 stars. Later on, in the middle ages, with the improvements of telescopes, it was believed there were around 70,000 stars. In our times, they are constantly discovering new stars, so nowadays we are beginning to understand that the figure that Resh Lakish gave could reperennt actual stars.
With best wishes
I just found now that in 1997 NASA estimated that there are
stars (10 to the power of 21).
and the Australian National University #3 estimated that there are
7x[10 to the power of 22] stars.
Further proof that Resh Lakish's number is actual:
Above. I showed that Chazal were thousands of years ahead of their times when Resh Lakish gave such a massive number for the stars; but even this number was real.
I am going now, bs'd, to attempt to show from a different Gemara that the opponents of Chazal believed that there is a limited number of stars; whilst the Rabbis of the Talmud contradicted this teaching and maintained that the number was too great for a human to count.
The Gemara is in Sanhedrin 39a, which tells us that a heretic once argued with Rabban Gamliel, and cited the verse (Tehilim 147:4) "Hash-m counts the number of stars". The heretic ridiculed Raban Gamliel and said "what is so special that your G-d counts the stars; I also can count the number of stars!".
Rabban Gamliel brought some fruit and put it in a sieve and spun the sieve round a few times. He commanded the heretic to count the number of fruits that were in the sieve.
R. Gamliel's opponent replied that the spinning sieve must be stopped before he can count the fruits.
R. Gamliel replied that the Heavens also spin round but even so Hash-m is capable of counting the stars. He demonstrated to the heretic that this is where his claim that he can count the stars falls down. To be able to count the stars one must be capable of counting spinning objects. Only Hash-m can do this.
One learns from this Gemara that the opponents of Chazal believed that the number of stars in the sky was not so great and human beings are capable of counting them all. R. Gamliel replied that the number is so great that only Hash-m can count them all. This is why Tehilim 147:4 tells us that Hash-m counts the stars, because it is something special that only Hash-m is capable of doing.
According to this, we can easily say that the number listed by Resh Lakish is actual. It is such a gigantic number that only Hash-m could count so many stars.
Here is another source to show that Resh Lakish's number represents actual stars:
1) This is from Rashi at the beginning of Sefer Devarim (1:10). Moshe Rabeinu says to the Jewish people: "Hashem your G-d has multiplied you, so that today you are as numerous as the stars in the sky."
Rashi there asks a question: How can Moshe say they were like the stars of the sky on that day? There were only 600,000 Jews at that time? Therefore, Rashi gives a different meaning to the verse. The fact that the Jews are compared to stars means that they are permanent and everlasting in the same way that stars are.
2) What is relevant for us is that it was obvious to Rashi that there are more than 600,000 stars in the sky. It is reasonable to assume that this suggests that Rashi understood the number given by Resh Lakish in Berachos 32b to be actual.
(Again, this is especially remarkable when one remembers that Rashi lived in the 11th century, about 500 years before the telescopes of Galileo, etc.)
3) A source for the above Rashi may be the Midrash Rabah there. The Midrash says, "Why did Moshe bless them like stars? Just as stars cannot be fathomed and are innumerable, so Yisrael cannot be fathomed and are innumerable."
This does not mean literally that the stars are innumerable, since Resh Lakish did give a number, but it means that the number is so large that no human being can have any understanding of such a large number.
I wanted to add that I had heard that a study found that the number of grains of sand was of a similar order of magnitude as the number of stars. The conclusion being that what was promised to Avraham Avinu about his descendants -- stars, grains of sand, dust of the earth -- could very well be the same number, the difference being our state of holiness, to quote Zeresh. (I have not as yet heard of anyone trying to measure "dust of the earth.")