How deep the Universe

By Phil Plait | January 17, 2011 11:07 am

The Universe is a big place.

I mean, really big. Big enough for anything. Literally, big enough for everything. Everything you see, everywhere you go, it’s all inside. And there’s room for all of it, with space to spare. I get used to it sometimes, and then, suddenly, I’m thrown into a state where I’m forced to remember just how much of the Universe there is.

Let me show you something:

[Click to galactinate, and while it may take a little while to download the entire 3500 x 2000 pixel image, it will definitely be worth your time.]

This is the nearby spiral galaxy NGC 1345 as seen by Hubble. Lovely, isn’t it? You wouldn’t even think it’s a spiral at first; the arms are so faint compared to the sprawling core and inner regions. But it so happens the galaxy is close to our own, making fainter parts easier to observe.

Now there you go. Did you see that? What I said? "The nearby spiral…". "The galaxy is close to our own…". But it isn’t.

Look. Let your eyes move to the top of the galaxy, just to the right of center. See that bright star? You can tell it’s a star because it has those spikes going through it, an artifact of how point sources are seen by some of the Hubble cameras. Given how bright it is, that star is almost certainly in our own galaxy, and not some luminous giant in NGC 1345; it’s just coincidentally superposed on the more distant galaxy. That means it’s no more than a few thousand light years away, and given its deep red color, that means it’s most likely a very cool and faint red dwarf, and therefore in all likelihood much closer even than that.

But even if it’s only a thousand light years away, that’s 10 quadrillion kilometers! That distance is impossible to imagine: it’s more than 60 million times farther away than the Sun… and the Sun is hardly close. If you could fly an airplane to the Sun, it would take 20 years. Twenty years! And that star is millions of times farther away.

… and that star is the closest thing in that picture. I said NGC 1345 is nearby, and on a cosmic scale it is; it’s part of a small cluster of galaxies a mere 85 million light years away: 850 quintillion kilometers. That’s 850,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilometers.

"Nearby."

But now let your eyes roam over the image. You can see dozens of smaller galaxies crowding the frame. Those are background galaxies much, much farther away than NGC 1345. I’ve extracted three of them here. Each looks to be a spiral galaxy — the one on the upper right is edge-on, but the tell-tale dark dust lane across its middle is a dead giveaway that it’s a disk galaxy — and although the distances aren’t known, it’s safe to bet they are hundreds of millions of light years away. Maybe more. In my time on Hubble we’d routinely see background galaxies that were well over a billion light years away. Routinely. Mind you, each of these background objects is itself an entire galaxy, containing tens or hundreds of billion of stars, perhaps as big, rich, and diverse as our own Milky Way.

And in the course of things, this was a short exposure for Hubble, just a little over half an hour. I once worked on a Hubble image that had an exposure that lasted for days, and we saw objects so faint that the faintest star you can see with your naked eye would be ten billion times brighter. These objects were essentially as far away as anything we possibly can see.

And yet the Universe is deeper even than that. It stretches on and on… and while it’s finite — it has an actual size — in practical terms it’s infinite. Why? Because it’s expanding. If you could somehow hitch a ride on a photon, the fastest thing in the cosmos, you’d still never reach the edge of the Universe even if it had one. That’s because the edge would be receding away from you faster than you could reach it. You’d forever be playing catch-up. Literally, forever.

I sometimes think it’s fantastic that we can see anything at all when we gaze upwards. And yet, there it is. Splayed out for us to study, for us to explore.

Some people feel small, insignificant, when they look out into all that space, all that blackness. It’s easy to feel that way, but it’s not a fair assessment. It can be a struggle, and a mighty one, but it’s worth the effort to seek out the awe and the grandeur in it as well. In all that vastness, all that depth, it’s entirely possible there are trillions of planets like Earth, and maybe more. But none is this Earth. Nowhere else is there another you, another me.

In the end, when you make that effort, this is one of most important lessons you learn: we’re a part of all this. A unique part. And that’s a fine thing to know.

Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

Comments (150)

  1. Colin jagoe

    Thanks Phil. Yay science!

  2. Ross Germon

    i’m humbled. Thank you.

  3. gregorylent

    and …. there are several universes, say mystics.

  4. Brad Fox
  5. C. Robert Dimitri
  6. CharonPDX

    “If you could somehow hitch a ride on a photon, the fastest thing in the cosmos, you’d still never reach the edge of the Universe even if it had one. That’s because the edge would be receding away from you faster than you could reach it. You’d forever be playing catch-up. Literally, forever.”

    And when you think about it, those billion-LY-distant galaxies are already significantly farther away physically. They’ve traveled so far since the light we’re seeing now left that the point we see the light at would be “ridiculously far” from their current vantage point, too.

    Take a galaxy that appears to us to be exactly and precisely one billion light years away. The light we’re sending toward them RIGHT NOW will take well over one billion years to reach them, because not only have they gone some non-trivial distance away from that one billion LY mark, but they will travel ANOTHER non-trivial distance by the time our light reaches them.

    For a galaxy that appears two billion LY away, by the time the light we are sending right now reaches them, more time will have passed in the “round trip” than the time the Earth has been in existence.

    “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the drug store, but that’s just peanuts to space.” – - Douglas Adams.

  7. Wow.

    I don’t really think I need add any more to that comment except that the top left galaxy in your trio was the first to catch my eye too. It looks so small. It’s a galaxy. A whole galaxy! It’s just mind-boggling.

  8. Charlie

    Phil, This is my first comment ever. You really hit this one out of the park, just stunning work. Carl, are you there? My Doppelganger in an alternate timeline, a professor at Cornell, is also elated. C

  9. thank you…when I go outside at night and feel my way up and out into the vastness I feel a wonderful peace. It makes all of my worries very very very very very very very etc. small.

  10. Through an amateur telescope, even though the big bright objects (planets, nebula, clusters, M31) are impressive, my favorite is hunting down the small faint fuzzies. They’re not much to look at, but just being able to find them at all (no small task without a GoTo system) amazes me every time. To think of the few photons, some who started the journey before primates even existed on Earth, traveled all that way to be taken in by my eye.

    Additionally, the astronomy club I belong to has a custom-built 12.5″ Newtonian, which is outfitted for video astrophotography with a Stellacam. Hunting for faint-fuzzies is a group activity with it. We often huddle around the monitors discerning between what are foreground stars and what are distant galaxies, very similar to how you explain in your post! Our unofficial record is having ~30 individual faint fuzzy galaxies on the screen at once, and our distance record is finding a few members of Abell 2218, some 2-billion light-years away!

  11. This is an excellent post, I agree with you 100%. The last part where you mention people feeling small when faced against the awesome proportions of the universe, it’s true… I know some people that are even afraid of it and don’t want to think about it… but this is not something to feel so bad or small about, we’re all part of it (the universe), we are its consciousness and we should strive more as a species to know more and more about it… for me, I have never felt like that, I’ve always been amazed by it.

    Also thanks for sharing the images that you constantly put here in your blog. Great work man!

    Be well.

  12. Paul(_DC2010)

    Nice Blog Phil! Really makes you attempt to think of the unimaginable vastness of it all!

  13. doug baker

    I get strange looks when I tell people that what they see in the sky is ancient history.

    It is not just very large distances but very long times that involved.

    I mean the light that hubble recorded to make this picture and show us some of those distant galaxies is hundreds of million years old. We are seeing what was not what is now. We are seeing light that started from distant star or groups of stars long before humans existed.

    The light from the sun we see is from about 8 minutes ago not now.

    I always think what does the universe and those galaxies look like now? we are just now detecting exoplanets, What is happening on those planets now?

  14. Steven Spray

    a great read, thanks!

  15. Antti

    Beautiful! I noticed that in the larger image, in the bottom right edge, the blue stars seem to be in “stripes”, about to the north-north-east direction. Is this just an illusion, something wrong with my display or what? Can they be parts of the spirals of the galaxy, no?

  16. Thank you for this. I posted “Pale Blue Dot” on my FB, and one of my religious ‘friends’ replied, “Isn’t God great?!” I replied, “No.”. I was summarily deleted.

  17. Catalina

    I going to lie down now because everything is spinning…

  18. Navneeth

    But none is this Earth. Nowhere else is there another you, another me.

    Okay, we get it: you don’t buy the “parallel universes” idea (outside of science fiction).
    ;)

  19. Janet

    The pictures and commentary were both beautiful. Thanks Phil. I’ve been seeing the skies differently since acknowledging my atheism and reading yours and others’ posts.

  20. I am just awestruck by this. I just love having my mind boggled by the greatness of the Universe, or by the incredible structure of a delicate flower. I love your last comment about there being only ONE you and ONE me. We are created in God’s image but all different and unique. These are all things that are TOO wonderful for me. I am following you on Twitter too. Thanks again.
    ~Paula

  21. felix

    Q: Are there more stars in the universe or grains of sand on earth? A: Stars (grains: 10^20 stars: 10^22) http://bit.ly/6ewbqX

  22. Beautiful photo and well written post. Thank you for both.

  23. Goran

    Thank you Phil,

    Great posts like this are needed from time to time…just to be able to reflect, admire and get inspired…maybe even try to explain it to someone who never experienced or understood what’s here, around us.

  24. Daisy K

    Beautifully written, Phil.

    For some reason, when I look io into the night sky and watch the Universe I don’t feel small. I feel really, really BIG. I can feel the connection to everything and feel one with it all. Not just our planet, but even with the farthest fuzzy I can see. “We are made of star stuff.”. It’s that quote that sometimes keeps me going.

  25. truthspeaker

    19. Navneeth Says:
    January 17th, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    But none is this Earth. Nowhere else is there another you, another me.

    Okay, we get it: you don’t buy the “parallel universes” idea (outside of science fiction).

    The parellel universes proposed by some physicists don’t involve copies of earth or the people on it either. It’s not like “Sliders”.

  26. Tail

    Great image, great description Phil. But to be honest I’m even more boggled by the fact that all that we can see out there, even with days long Hubble exposures, is only about 4% of what is.

    Oh, and Paula (21), which god is that? There have been scads of them over the years, I gather you don’t believe in all of them. Why not?

    And truthsspeaker (23), you speak untruth. Some multiverse, many worlds, ideas do include copies of Earth and people. Every time you make a decision, according to some ideas, a new universe is created where you both do and don’t reply to this comment.

  27. For some reason, I had a sort of “Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” voice in my head. Was I the only one? :D

  28. Phil Plait, the real “Total Perspective Vortex.”

  29. AliCali

    “Some people feel small, insignificant, when they look out into all that space, all that blackness.”

    Actually, I often think about the size of the Earth vs. the size of our solar system, vs. the Milky Way, vs. our local group, and vs. the entire universe. I then think about the knowledge about the universe that we humans have on this really, really dinky planet. When I put these two thoughts together, I feel humans are BIGGER than we appear. This small dot, not even big enough to be a blip from anyplace outside our solar system, has creatures that know so much about the universe just from observing and thinking. How can knowledge so big come from a planet so small?

  30. kurt_eh

    @CharonPDX
    “you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space”

    One of my favourite quotes from the Guide!

  31. Jim Johnson

    “If you could fly an airplane to the Sun, it would take 20 years.” I like this better:
    “If an interstate stretched from earth to the sun, it would take a century and a half to drive it at 70 mph (and that’s without stopping for rest, gas, or Micky-D’s).”

  32. I recall my first view of a Palomar sky survey photograph when I was a young astronomer and realizing the number of faint background galaxies on the plate outnumbered the number if stars. That was literally awe inspiring.

  33. Jason

    “Nowhere else is there another you, another me.”

    Are you so sure of that? Suppose the universe (or multiverse) is vast enough that all the variables which cumulated in us happens the same way again… and ALSO slightly different. Now granted, that would make it unimaginably vast, but I’m not so quick to dismiss that. :)

  34. Lewis

    I’ve noticed that the more I learn about the universe, the more I understand, the more awe inspiring it is! This is why I study physics and astronomy at university.

    Great post (as usual)!

  35. I’m always so fascinated by these images that show the faint whisps of galaxies so far away that only their brightest portions can take a few pixels of the frame. I mean when you think about the idea of an entire galaxy… not unlike our own… being represented in its entirety as a few pixels, it’s pretty difficult to not feel insignificant. Then you look at the ever-powerful “Pale Blue Dot” image from just outside the solar system and see a how tiny we are in our tiny portion of this massive galaxy.

    I think that anyone simply looking at an image like this or any other deep space hubble image and understanding what they’re viewing could not in any measure of intelligence say “there’s no possible existence of extra-terrestrial life.”

  36. truthspeaker

    Tail Says:
    January 17th, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    And truthsspeaker (23), you speak untruth. Some multiverse, many worlds, ideas do include copies of Earth and people. Every time you make a decision, according to some ideas, a new universe is created where you both do and don’t reply to this comment.

    That is a vast misstatement of multiverse hypotheses. The other universes would be the result of quantum events with more than one possible outcome, not people making decisions.

  37. Angel

    This is why I don’t understand creationists. Why go to all the trouble of making up a god, and then limiting it to 6000 years? If I was to create a god to believe in, it would look like this picture.

  38. Radwaste

    A nit:

    Even without the artifice of “parallel universes”, the occurrence of a thing in one location does not preclude its occurrence in another.

    While this is easy to accept when one sees the combination of sodium and chlorine to form a crystal of salt, it is only a matter of degree to build another Phil Plait, for instance – and the venue for such a thing is all of space and all of time.

    People forget, even when forcefully reminded, that we never, not once, escape natural laws in any of our endeavors; when we build something, we use those laws.

    And it is not up to us to make that combination occur.

    Practically speaking, nobody else has your fingerprints, but nothing rules it out.

  39. Daffy

    I’m sorry, but I can’t look at an image like that without thinking, “Um…hello? Anybody there?”

    Truly amazing.

  40. Every time I go outside at night away from the city and its clear, I look up at the stars in whatever patch of sky and know it goes on forever (ok well almost), but you describe it so much better than that. :)

  41. Don

    Didn’t some scientists calculate that just due to probability ,about 10^500 light years away there is an exact copy of you doing the exact same thing you are doing right now? Essentially, the Universe repeats at 10^500 light years. Although, then the question is how do you tell the difference between the Universe repeating and the Universe being circular? If everything is truly identical you would not be able to tell the difference.

    Consider the headaches thinking about that will cause.

  42. DrFlimmer

    Way to go, Phil!

    However, I disagree on a small point: I believe, it is important to feel this insignificance from time to time. And I wish some other people on this globe would do as well.
    What I mean is that many people don’t care about anything. But maybe such a feeling of insignificance, that the universe doesn’t care, that even the earth as a planet doesn’t care (apart from a little volume we call the “biosphere”), may ground such people again. If nobody in this “god forsaken” universe cares about us, we should care the more.

    But what are we doing? Destroying.

    Maybe a bit of insignificance, that is to say humbleness, could help from time to time to make this good earth truly a better place.

    That’s (apart from other feelings) what I feel and enjoy, when I look up into the stars. The universe is great, we should begin to be a part of it.

  43. Pete

    This is actually quite depressing. I don’t really believe ftl travel will ever be discovered, and I’m not sure technology will ever be created that can overcome stl travel between the stars. “Stasis” doesn’t exist, and shielding against cosmic particles and radiation is the hurdle. If our species is doomed to be bottled up in this system until this system is no more… Think I’ll go lie down.

  44. Gorgeous! I’ve never minded feeling small and insignificant when compared to the universe. That we can understand anything about it at all says a lot about our species. I hope to never lose that childlike wonder when I read posts like this and see pictures like that one. Simply gorgeous.

  45. @Daffy,

    I’m with you. I look at images like these and think: There are billions of galaxies out there, each with billions of stars. If even 0.1% of those stars had planets and 0.1% of those planets were Earth-like and 0.1% of those Earth-like planets developed life, then there would be billions of planets out there with life on them. Some might only contain bacteria-equivalent organisms or non-intelligent life. Some, though, might contain intelligent life. Somewhere in the universe, some intelligent organism might be looking up at the stars that they can see from their planet and wondering if they are alone in the Universe.

    The sad part, though, is that we probably won’t be able to communicate with these hypothetical-aliens anytime in our lives. I just don’t think they’ve made the long trek over here in hyper-advanced star ships that defy the laws of physics as we know them just to probe some farmers and burn patterns into crops… Unless that’s their equivalent of “focusing a magnifying glass on an anthill.”

  46. @Angel (#39), that’s why I love this Carl Sagan Quote:

    How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?’ Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.

  47. aMazed

    Looking at this lovely photo, or at the night sky, doesn’t make me feel small, but it does make me feel a little lonely. I’m one of the people who believe there must be lots and lots of intelligent life-forms out there, but the distances involved and the space-time speed limit would seem to make it very unlikely that we’ll ever be able to communicate with them. And I’m not convinced it would be to their advantage if we could, if we’re the kind of species that responds to a picture like this one with more of the quibbling and sniping we seem to be so fond of. That’s what makes me feel small.

  48. Jojo

    If you sit back and ponder the scale of the universe as we perceive it, it is awfully hard not to feel insignificant. When you look at those seemingly little tiny galaxies and realize that they each contain hundreds of billions of stars, well, that’s mind boggling to most people!

    The media often portray the size of this universe as around 13 billion light years, as far as we have been able to see. But everything has been expanding outward. Has anyone computed how much farther those galaxies on the edge have moved since 13 billion years ago? I thought I saw a figure that the size of the universe was now about 75 billion light years?

    And Brian Aldiss had an old SF book aptly named – Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand!

  49. a.a.

    Astronomers should use some of those Ancient Indian numbers to describe such vast distances, like a rajju – the distance traveled by a deva bird in six months if it covers a hundred thousand yojana (approximately a million kilometres) in each blink of its eye.

  50. Wow, this stuff is far.
    Like, super-duper crazy far.

    Thanks, Phil. Fantastic post. The staggering beauty of the universe gives me a sense of awe and wonder far more than my faith in God ever did. To know that the matter in my body was made by stars like that, and that I am even here at all to look back at them, makes me feel like I’ve won the lottery every night when I look up at the moon with my 3 year old son.

  51. George Martin

    There needs to be some clarification on the size of the universe. Phil says that the universe is finite at a given point in time, but is practically infinite because of rapid expansion. However, one often reads that many astronomers believe the universe to be infinite, and the sense is infinite without qualification.

    http://www.universetoday.com/36469/size-of-the-universe/

    The observable universe (and many times when the word “universe” is used, what is really meant is the observable universe) is certainly finite in size. However, some astronomers believe that there may be an infinite universe beyond what is theoretically observable, in which case, the universe is actually infinitely larger than Phil describes in this article! On the other hand, other astronomers believe the universe to actually be smaller than the observable universe, that some of the galaxies that seem to be extremely distant are mirror images of much closer galaxies.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observable_universe

    It would be great if Phil could use his blog to clarify this.
    GM

  52. Thanks for this. I can’t really even begin to comprehend the size of the universe. Trying to contemplate it fills me with awe. It makes me feel small, yet amazed to be a part of all of this, and not insignificant. Wow, indeed.

  53. antonio

    thank you Phil! I’ve recently started to read your blog and it helped me, a lot! I used to be a little worried about stupid things like antivax and various hoaxes, but reading your entries helped me to see the world in a more skeptical way. Quoting you: ufo’s chemtrails etc, I belived them all! Then my life got a little Plait! saluti dall’italia!

  54. Keith Bowden

    “We’re a part of all this” – and isn’t that just grand? :D Thanks Phil.

    addendum: When I was young (okay, even now somtimes), I’d occasionally imagine myself floating or flying through space like a comic book character and try to really imagine the vast distances. I always loved it it, it’s an amazing universe, not scary at all. (Excepting the occasional coordinate…) :)

  55. Sam H

    “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”

    Carl Sagan = PURE WIN. Even if you don’t agree with him on everything, his poetic prose in describing the wonders of the endless night is something anyone can appreciate. And Contact is still my number one movie of all time :) .

    The universe is so vast that we truly never will comprehend it. When I observed the curls of the galaxy clear as day under a totally dark night sky last summer, when I observed at least 5 others in the same night, I was saddened that I couldn’t feel the vastness – barely a hint of it. I knew in mind, but I couldn’t quite convince myself in heart that those twin subdued smudges in my scope were the REAL M81 & M82, whose photons had traveled for inconceivable ages to reach my retinas. It’s so beyond us that we simply can’t comprehend it, and never will. But I was still wowed, and I must say that listening to certain uplifting trance anthems can really heighten the experience :D

    As for Paula’s comment, it appears then that there are some theists around here, even in a mostly agnostic crowd. I’ve come clean as one after my comments regarding ID, and there could be others out there. I’ll just say that, having grown up an evangelical the YECs don’t believe in a “little God”, they simply believe that he never lies, and thus he created in a week. What they need to learn is that their interpretation of the Bible is every bit as fallible as the “fallible men” they criticize – and just because science is changing doesn’t mean that it’s all “foolish wisdom”. I agree with the Carl Sagan quote that Larian posted, in that people need to be open to new interpretations. Keeping that in mind, modern cosmology hasn’t quite disproved the Bible, but one should remember to reserve unjustified speculation in both areas. This is where I return to my ID comment – even if a Intelligent Designer is supposedly more “complex” and cannot be predicted or explained, that doesn’t matter if said entity explains the data. Hitching your hopes onto some undiscovered, unknown future natural explanation is no different than “God of the gaps” – all that matters is the evidence you have now. Remember the Holmesian principle on the impossible and improbable – if no simpler explanation exists, then what you see is what you get!

    Everyone on this forum so far is actually religious. Most of it is Einstenian religion, although so far two theists have popped up. But no matter what our beliefs as to the origin of the great vastness, it’s meaning or it’s purpose (if any), we can put that aside for now, and simply enjoy it for what it is. And while were at it, follow Carl’s advice – make a little love here and there (interpret THAT phrase as you will ;) )

  56. chris j.

    one thing i love about pictures like this – you can almost always find a “rare” ring galaxy somewhere in the background. the background galaxy near that weird clump of stars at lower left (and boy, ngc 1345 is really really clumpy!), while fuzzy, looks a lot like a ring to me.

  57. My man.
    You may enjoy sharing “The Universe in Forty Steps” by Dutch *elementary teacher* Kees Boeke, a 1954 book you can also find on the Net, with your readers.
    It’s the idea that later was remarketed by others into the Scientific American “Powers of Ten” video –almost thirty years later.
    Keep up the good work!
    W

  58. Loree Thomas

    Did I miss some major cosmological discovery?

    And yet the Universe is deeper even than that. It stretches on and on… and while it’s finite — it has an actual size —

    I thought the question hadn’t been settled yet?

    Other than that paragraph I loved the post. It strongly reflects my own feelings and thoughts when I stop to think about the universe. The first time I saw the Hubble deep field image and understood what it represented was an almost religious experience. It sounds trite when it’s said out loud or written down, but the feeling engendered when I’m able to even partially grasp the size and scope of just that part of the universe we can observe is hard to describe without using wooish sounding phrases.

  59. Renee

    Beautiful. The picture and the words.

  60. Alikar

    Truly the universe is wonderfully and beautifully made.

  61. JH

    I mean, really WOW! A loud wow for everyone to hear. Literally, loud enough to be heard through the internet.

    Thank you for this wonderful post.

  62. George Martin

    My post seems to be stuck in “awaiting moderation” mode, so I’ll try again without the links:

    There needs to be some clarification on the size of the universe. Phil says that the universe is finite at a given point in time, but is practically infinite because of rapid expansion. However, one often reads that many astronomers believe the universe to be infinite, and the sense is infinite without qualification.

    (link omitted)

    The observable universe (and many times when the word “universe” is used, what is really meant is the observable universe) is certainly finite in size. However, some astronomers believe that there may be an infinite universe beyond what is theoretically observable, in which case, the universe is actually infinitely larger than Phil describes in this article! This seems to be in line with the current thinking that the universe is “flat” (neither curved inward nor outward.) On the other hand, other astronomers believe the universe to actually be smaller than the observable universe, that some of the galaxies that seem to be extremely distant are mirror images of much closer galaxies.

    (link to Wikipedia article on “Observable Universe)

    It would be great if Phil could use his blog to clarify this.
    GM

  63. Sour Doodle

    A question:
    If relativity says that the speed of light is the limit then how could the edge of the universe be receeding faster than a photon? I can grasp that you’d always be the same distance from the edge and never gain on it, but the claim that you’d be falling behind leaves me underwhelmed.

  64. Robin

    It’s satisfying enough to be among many clumps of sentient star stuff which, through science, are able to contemplate pieces of the universe and find a few keys to unlocking its mystery. I still wish I could take a quick sight seeing tour of the whole thing before I return to cosmic dust, though.

  65. truthspeaker

    George, I don’t know of many astronomers who think the universe is infinite. I don’t think it’s a very mainstream view.

    With our current technology it’s not an answerable question anyway – and thanks to the speed of light and the expansion of the universe, it may never be answerable.

  66. whooke

    It was nice of god to make all of that just so it would look nice when we finally invented telescopes.

    Although while he was giving out divine revelations, it would have been nice if he had told someone how to make a telescope a few thousand years ago, so more people could have enjoyed it.

  67. Joseph G

    What would happen if the Hubble took a reeeeeally long exposure? Like, several years? At some point would the detectors just get saturated with zodiacal light and cosmic rays? Is there some point at which it’s pointless to try a longer exposure because there’s too much noise?

  68. James Boggs

    I love all the photos you post up! It’s really mind-blowing to try and imagine the scale of everything.

    Yet-
    It is sometimes emotionally crushing to look at such photographs and realize that we can never put our hands to it, can never reach out and see the wild shape of what extra-galactic life is there.

    At the same time that it is exhilarating, it is (to me) oft times depressing as well.

  69. Monkey

    “big enough for everything”

    …nice!

  70. Jim

    Very poignant. Especially so now that we have apparently passed the global warming tipping point with the tundra releasing enough methane to permanently put us on a Venus-like future by the end of this century. (Reference: Climate Progress, http://climateprogress.org/2011/01/13/science-kiehl-ncar-paleoclimate-lessons-from-earths-hot-past/)

  71. This was a beautiful post. I have recently developed an obsession with astronomy, and have begun to see it as central to a new cosmic religion that I see developing. These pictures we are getting from space telescopes and sharing on the internet are really a form of religious celebration of our awe-inspiring Cosmos, aren’t they? I’m so inspired that I’ve begun writing a book in an attempt to found such cosmic religion, which I’m calling “Cosmism”. If you are interested please click on my name above.

  72. Joseph G

    @#7 PDX: “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the drug store, but that’s just peanuts to space.” — Douglas Adams.

    One of my favorite Douglas Adams quotes. Reposted because it deserves to be seen :)

    Here’s another great one:

    The Total Perspective Vortex derives its picture of the whole Universe on the principle of extrapolated matter analyses.
    To explain — since every piece of matter in the Universe is in some way affected by every other piece of matter in the Universe, it is in theory possible to extrapolate the whole of creation — every sun, every planet, their orbits, their composition and their economic and social history from, say, one small piece of fairy cake.
    The man who invented the Total Perspective Vortex did so basically in order to annoy his wife.
    Trin Tragula — for that was his name — was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher or, as his wife would have it, an idiot.
    And she would nag him incessantly about the utterly inordinate amount of time he spent staring out into space, or mulling over the mechanics of safety pins, or doing spectrographic analyses of pieces of fairy cake.
    “Have some sense of proportion!” she would say, sometimes as often as thirty-eight times in a single day.
    And so he built the Total Perspective Vortex — just to show her.
    And into one end he plugged the whole of reality as extrapolated from a piece of fairy cake, and into the other end he plugged his wife: so that when he turned it on she saw in one instant the whole infinity of creation and herself in relation to it.
    To Trin Tragula’s horror, the shock completely annihilated her brain; but to his satisfaction he realized that he had proved conclusively that if life is going to exist in a Universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion.

  73. George Martin

    Truthspeaker, Thanks for your reply. However, I can find more than the one link above where an astronomer states that it is certainly possible that the universe is infinite in size. It’s hard to find a flat statement, such as the one Phil made here, that the universe is finite. I think much of the time when they talk about the universe, they’re talking about the observable universe, which is certainly finite.

    Here’s a faq on the big bang which explains the three different possible spatial curvatures.

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/astronomy/bigbang.html#theory

    They state: “For the flat and negatively curved surfaces, it is clear that these cases must extend to infinite size.” And the current thinking is that the geometry of the universe is flat. Hence it would follow that the universe is infinite.

    To hypothesize a boundary with flat or negatively curved space seems rather strange, doesn’t it? Some “wall” out there, beyond which nothing exists? One problem with this is that it would violate the “cosmological principle” explained in the above link: “the universe looks the same everywhere and in every direction.” It’s possible that the earth (or Milky Way galaxy) is the center of the universe and we are looking out to the “boundary”. It seems more likely to me that from the point of view of galaxies far off from us can be seen galaxies equally far off in the other direction, and from those galaxies other galaxies even further away, and so on. In other words, no boundary and no center.

    GM

  74. Joseph G

    @#65 Sour Doodle:

    That one is hard to get one’s head around. My understanding (anyone please correct me if I’m wrong!!) is that nothing about special relativity precludes objects from moving relative to one another at greater then the speed of light, so long as neither of them are moving faster then the speed of light in a vacuum within their reference frame.
    That’s why you get weird theoretical situations like this: A ship falls into a black hole as another ship watches. To the observers on the “safe” ship, the infalling ship redshifts (a lot) and appears to travel more and more slowly as it approaches the event horizon. At some point there’s an (apparently static) image of the infalling ship that never seems to cross the event horizon (to observers on the safe ship). To the people aboard the infalling ship, they seem to just zip right on through the event horizon and are squished out of existence at the singularity in a finite amount of time*.
    The reason for the discrepancy is that, one way you can look at the situation is that, in effect, space itself is falling into the event horizon at the speed of light (and beyond).
    Distant objects can seem to move at superluminal speeds from our frame of reference because the objects are not really moving through (local) space – the distance between them is increasing due to the expansion of space itself.

    Again, if I’ve butchered this, someone please set me straight!

    *This is assuming a very very very large black hole, here – the tidal forces of a stellar-mass black hole would rip any solid object to atoms before it crossed the event horizon.

  75. Gonçalo Aguiar

    Great text, really astonishing.

  76. Brian Too

    I wonder if the universe is too big to analyze except in aggregate. Even in principle.

    Imagine we had some kind of magic interstellar drive. We can go anywhere we want as fast as we can push a button. How long would it take you to visit every star system, every planet, and decide if you wanted to stick around for more investigating, or move on?

    My guess is that you could use the whole of humanity, for as long as there has been humanity, and you’d never even come close to finishing the job.

    The point here isn’t the numbers, or the methodology, or any of that. It’s that the universe may be too big to explore, too big for imagination, too big for comprehension. You can reel off the numbers in scientific notation but that is ultimately a crude approximation of the wonder and variety likely hidden within.

  77. Jason

    Is it pure coincidence that 93,000,000 / 500 is exactly 186,000? ~ 21 years?

  78. Brilliantly said BA. Just goes to show everything is relative – all spacetime. :-)

    A few thought-provoking quotes on the scale of things for folks because I like them & wish to share them with y’all in the hope that others will too :

    ****

    “Space isn’t remote at all. Its only an hour away if your car could go straight upwards.”
    - Page 43, Sir Fred Hoyle, ‘The Wonderful World of Space’, Heather Couper, Octopus Books, 1980.

    (But …)

    “If it were possible to drive straight from the Earth to Neptune, taking the shortest possible route and keeping up a steady 60 m.p.h., the journey would take nearly 5,200 years.”
    - Page 57, ‘The Sky at night’, Patrick Moore, WW. Norton & Co, 1986.

    “Few men realise the immensity of the vacancy in which the dust of the material universe swims.”
    - Page 7, ‘The War of the Worlds’, H.G. Wells, first published 1898, this edition : Aerie books, 1987.

    “To get a sense of the scale of the Jovian system, consider that if the Earth was placed at the centre of Jupiter, our Moon would lie inside the orbit of [Jupiter’s nearest large moon] Io, while distant [outer moon] Sinope would be a third of way to Mars.”
    - P. 186, Ferris, ‘Seeing in the Dark’, Simon & Schuster, 2002.

    “Jupiter’s magnetosphere, the wasp-shaped zone within which its magnetic field takes precedence over the charged particles constituting the solar wind, extends more than seven million miles ahead of the planet in the direction of its orbital motion, … and trails so far behind that it sometimes impinges upon Saturn.”
    - P. 186, Ferris, ‘Seeing in the Dark’, Simon & Schuster, 2002.

    “If you put three grains of sand inside a vast cathedral, that cathedral will be more densely packed with grains of sand than stars are found apart in space.”
    - British astronomer Sir James Jeans quoted on page 28, ‘Skywatching’, David H. Levy, Ken Fin Books, 1995.

    “Suppose the nearest civilisation on a planet of another star is, say, 200 light years away. Then some 150 years from now they’ll begin to receive our feeble post-world war II television and radio emission.”
    - Carl Sagan, ‘Pale Blue Dot’ page 388, Headline Book Publishing, 1995.

    “Of the 10 million stars within 1,000 light years of earth, Rigel ranks as number 1, radiating more light than any other. Each minute it [Rigel] casts off more light than the Sun generates in a month.”
    - Ken Croswell, “The Blue Witch” p. 22 in ‘Sky &Telescope’ magazine May-June 2007.

    “Around us is a vast galaxy arrayed on scales so gigantic that galactic structure becomes discernible only once the solar system has dwindled to a dot the size of the period of this sentence.”
    - P.211, Ferris, ‘Seeing in the Dark’, Simon & Schuster, 2002.

    “Quasars are so luminous that if one was in action in a local group galaxy its brilliance would rival that of the Sun.”
    - P.284, Ferris, ‘Seeing in the Dark’, Simon & Schuster, 2002.

    “…about 40 supernovae are exploding somewhere in the universe every second. However, light from most of these events won’t reach Earth for billions of years, if ever.”
    - Page 73, “Ask Astro” column in ‘Astronomy‘ magazine October 2008.

    “Cosmology also tells us that there are perhaps 100 billion galaxies in the universe and that each contains roughly 100 billion stars. By a curious co-incidence, 100 billion is also the approximate number of cells in a human brain.”
    - Page 237, ‘StarGazer’, Dr Fred Watson, Allen & Unwin, 2004.

    “Yet here we are with our eyes and our minds and our curiosity, six+ billion passengers aboard a tiny blue boat, bobbing and wheeling our way around one vast Catherine wheel among many.”
    - P.246, Ferris, ‘Seeing in the Dark’, Simon & Schuster, 2002.

    + Today that figure is apparently seven billion humans – less than a decade later.

  79. Excellent. I love the mental exercise of coming to terms with space. Which is always a fruitless effort, in the end, but it’s sure hella fun to try.

  80. ジョバン

    Isn’t it possible to reach the edge of the universe, even if it is expanding at a rate faster than our attempt to reach it? Like in the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant_on_a_rubber_rope ant on a rubber rope problem? That is assuming that the universe is expanding as a whole, and that we are riding in its expansion; and not that only its edge/edges are expanding and creating more space-time…

    I wonder what it would be like, reaching the edge of the universe, or what would life be, or if even life would be possible. Would their sky appear like it is half empty void and half starry? Would their physical laws be the same? Is space-time near the edge stretched? or is space-time density uniform throughout the universe? I also wonder where Earth is located, relative to the Universe…

  81. LobotomyBaby

    i do disagree with that last sentence.

    “In all that vastness, all that depth, it’s entirely possible there are trillions of planets like Earth, and maybe more. But none is this Earth. Nowhere else is there another you, another me.”

    mathematically, if the universe is a as big as we think it is. there is another me. maybe just many different versions of this me or maybe another me just like me.

  82. Anchor

    “…we’re a part of all this. A unique part. And that’s a fine thing to know.”

    Yes it is.

    Good stuff Phil! ;)

  83. Phil you pick up a photo that says not much to the not-exersised eye and make something like inspiring poetry out of that. Keep inspiring people, ty

  84. Messier Tidy Upper

    Also worth sharing with y’all methinks is this visual run-through of the scale of things, planets, stars and cosmos originally via this blog :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/06/12/scale/

    & for the smaller objects see :

    http://www.planetary.org/blog/article/00002585/

    For the comets and asteroids we’ve seen close up via spaceprobes & Emily Lakdawalla’s wonderful blog. :-)

    (An updated version has the nucleus of Hartley-2 as a speck there too – but alas couldn’t find it quickly.)

    @17. Smallfry : Thank you for this. I posted “Pale Blue Dot” on my FB,

    You mean something like this? :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNOM7WOGGUw

    Superluminous (beyond brilliant) clip with accompanying music and powerful images. :-)

  85. Messier Tidy Upper

    Religion~wise I think it remains an open question.

    I am an agnostic who has, at various times in my life been religious and been an athiest. I have friends who are religious and friends who are atheists and I’m NOT about to tell any of them that I know better than they do & can tell them what to think.

    I’ve read good (& also bad) arguments both for and against the existence of God – none of which has really convinced me of either side except to note that both are guilty of using strawmen and cherry-picking and just not listening to each other’s perspectives fairly at times.

    Neither side has a right to impose its ideas on the other. Religion,in my view, is best kept a personal thing for individuals torefelct upon and decide for themselves, todiscuss and try and persuade others – but politley and without threat of force or justifying violence – physical or pyschological – because others dare to disagree.

    I don’t know & I know enough to say I don’t know. As I see things, religion is a complicated area, much more so than some atheist and some religious folks will care to admit, and one that almost certainly won’t be resolved by internet arguments or polemical tomes. I can’t say what y’all “should” believe only what tentative conclusions I’ve reached so far.

    I don’t believe in organised religions, I don’t think the Bible or Torah or any other sacred text is inerrant or fallible – all are open to interpretation, mistranslation & misunderstadning but I do think some pretty strange things have happnened that we don’t have good explanations for. I think there are some valid reasons to at least keep the *possibility* of a Good and Loving God open.

    The cosmos is big enough for many things indeed – it should be large enough for that. :-)

  86. Don Ryan

    I’m not sure I understand the question I’m asking, but see if you can help. The Big Bang took place 13+ bilion years ago. For the sake of this mind game, assume that it occured right where our sun is now. That being the case, all light occuring as a result would be traveling in all directions away from us at, I assume, the speed of light.

    If God, (HE is helping me out here), would transport me to a distance 14 billion light years in any direction, I would not be capable of seeing our universe, since light had not had time to reach me. Would that not make the radius of the universe 13+ billion light years?

  87. Nick M

    The most Sagan-esque post you’ve ever made. Well done, sir. Well done.

  88. Messier Tidy Upper

    Stumbled upon another superluminous size comparison here :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=iv&v=2FwCMnyWZDg&annotation_id=annotation_208405&fmt=22

    Starting with the ice dwarf planets and building upwads in size to distant huger galaxies than our Milky Way. Well worth checking out – & includes more awe-inspiring Carl Sagan quotes too. :-)

    One minor nitpicky note though : Our Sun is actually far from “humdrum” or ordinary. It is in the top 5% of all stars with most stars being far cooler, smaller and dimmer red dwarfs* (comprising 70% or so of alls stars), orange dwarfs (15% or so) and white dwarfs. (10% or so – & rising!) F & G stars make up about 4% of all stars – and our Sun is a relatively hot and bright early G type star at that. (G2 with G0 being hottest, brightest, largest and G9 coolest, dimmest and smallest) Sirian A type stars make up around 1% of stars and the massive blue-white spectral classes O & B combined are less than 1% of all stars despite making up most of our constellations because their superluminosities render them visible over vast gulfs of space.

    * Despite being the most numerous type of stars with most of our nearest neighbours (Proxima Centauri, Barnard’s Star, Wolf 359, etc ..) NOT a single red dwarf is viisble to our unaided vision. Another quirky fact – every red dwarf star – every main-sequence “dwarf” star with a spectral type “later” (cooler & less massive) than G8 that was ever born remains still exists so long are their vast lifespans. In contrast the brighter O & B type stars live so briefly just 5 to 300 million years or so that many of them weren’t even born when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

  89. csy

    overestimated the distance by about 47 qunitillion, never the less great article [;

  90. Messier Tidy Upper

    NB. on Sources : G8 as the cut-off for stars-yet-to-die & thus all-ever-born-yet-live figure comes from James Kaler’s superb book The Hundred Greatest Stars Copernicus Books, 2002.

    The statistics on stars broken down into spectral type percentages above is from memory – & thus possibly incorrect – but originally from Ken Croswell’s article, “Is there Life around Alpha Centauri?” in Astronomy magazine, April 1991, Kalmbach publishing Co.

    Also, Sagan quote describing our Sun is accurate in that the sheer number of stars like ours is, well, astronomical and too that compared with stars like Eta Carinae, Aldebaran or even Procyon (“the little dogstar”) our Sun is, indeed, relatively faint, small and unimpressive.

    Again, everything, in all of time and space, is relative. :-)

  91. Carmen

    Wonderfully said.

  92. glych

    I didn’t realize you were part of the deep field view. Was it true other scientists were a little leery about handing over Hubble for that length of time to focus on a patch of sky the size of a grain of sand held at arms length? I’m glad the gamble paid off. There’s a great zoom through a 3D model of the picture on youtube.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFAZOH65ql0

  93. aw

    Truthseeker- How do you know that thoughts aren’t quantum events? Where do they come from? Thoughts are the building blocks of decisions, after all…and in a truly infinite multiverse, with quantum mechanics as driver, everything that can happen must happen- whether in the four dimensions we know, or the 22 or more we don’t. Even if we stay just in our 1 universe that boggles the mind, our senses and our feeble technologies do not allow us to detect 99.99999…% of what is going on- we can’t find dark matter that must be there, can only detect a tiny slice of the electromagnetic spectrum

  94. Bob

    Sam (#57)

    I take exception to your labeling “Everyone on this forum so far is actually religious. Most of it is Einstenian religion, although so far two theists have popped up.”

    I, and any other person of honest scientific curiosity, do not “believe” in things. I do not have “faith”. Faith is irrational – scientific understanding is about reason and rationality. These things are as opposite as you can get.

    Scientific thinkers are unafraid to say “I don’t know”. Faithful say “I do know, and the answer is X”.

    If I think something is true/real, it’s because of current facts, evidence, and experimentation consistently supports the theory or hypothesis being presented. I’m willing to say “it *seems* like theory X is the most likely answer *for now* with the given information.

    If new evidence came about to show Einstein was wrong about something, or a theory were inadequate to explain everything in it’s purvue, I would accept that as new information, provided it came from a verifiable source, and had sufficient experimental confirmation to support it. Guess what – this is already the case – Einstein wasn’t perfect, and his theories about gravity are imperfect.

    Speaking of the gravity theory being imperfect…you do realize the theory of gravity has been tested tens of thousands of times, (perhaps millions) in grade school up through college level physics courses? And every experiment clearly demonstrates the mathematical model of gravity (at the macro scale) is consistent. And we know where the theory breaks down (if I recall it starts to break down at the quantum scale, or at the supermassive scale). I don’t “believe” in the theory of gravity – I recognize the great many experiments that support the theory’s accuracy in given circumstances. When new data shows inaccuracy in our understanding of gravity, it’s used to improve the model.

    Guess what, if physics were religion, then Quantum Theory would have never been accepted by the scientific community, as it violated Newtonian “Dogma”.

  95. All this information of a cosmic ocean waiting for a voyage on a galactic scale.

    Too bad we cant even get our government to support our own people today, let alone give the necessary funding to NASA to protect tomorrow.

  96. I have a massive man crush on carl sagan. with the way our economy is moving it looks like the Chinese are going to have to pickup where we are forced to leave off.

  97. Sam H (57): Nope, it’s not faith. Try this on for size.

  98. @Sour Doodle,

    If I recall correctly, light has a fixed speed limit, but space itself can go faster than light-speed. Think of the universe as a balloon. (A very, very BIG balloon.) We’re on the inside of the balloon and can look all around at the inside. We can’t look up (to the space in the middle) or down (through the balloon’s surface).

    Now, suppose the cosmic balloon pump starts pumping more air into the balloon. As the balloon inflates, points on the inside of the balloon begin to speed apart from each other faster than light speed.

  99. Sieben Stern
  100. Masterskrain

    “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western spiral arm of the Galaxy, lies a small, unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly 93 million miles, is an utterly insignificant little Blue-Green planet, who’s ape descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea!”
    Douglas Adams puts it all in perspective…

  101. Jojo

    @ (#94) glych pointed to: There’s a great zoom through a 3D model of the picture on youtube.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFAZOH65ql0
    ———
    Thanks for this link! It’s a great video and it addresses my question posted above (in #50) of how big the universe currently is? The answer = 47 billion light years.

    So in 13 billion years, the farthest out galaxies have moved 34 billion light years further? Which would seem to imply to my untrained mind that they are moving faster than the speed of light. How can that be?

  102. TheShadowBroker

    Thank you, Phil. I’ve been trying to put my thoughts about our place in the universe into words, but almost always become overwhelmed by the enormity. This was beautiful.

  103. Ganzy

    Great post Phil!

    It was these kinds of posts that drew me into your blog like a moth around a flame some 5-6 years ago… Has it really been that long?!?

    Having not grown up in a religious family environment, I was fortunate enough to not have had religion impressed upon me at an early age. Being a latchkey kid from a less well off area, I was unfortunate enough to have not gotten a decent education either. It wasn’t all the schools fault ;D

    Circumstances did afford me to wander through life picking and choosing whatever interests took my fancy though. A beautiful rock or a dead newt, I’d pick it up twirl it around in the sun, fall in love with it for ten minutes and then toss it to the ground going in search of other treasures. Mid to late teens I picked up two rocks that would end up captivating and mesmerizing me for the next 10 or so years. One of these rocks was Green, sticky and very pungent! The other one was well… how can I describe it… like a multifaceted hyper-jewel, all brilliant colours and flashing lights etc… Staring into it was like walking through a labyrinth, there were unicorns, rainbows and all kinds of fluffiness and wonderment contained therein. Hints of divine intelligence would wispily disappear down dark passages, just when you thought you were on the edge of some mind expanding mystical revelation.

    I figured this was what religious mysticsm was, I’d found God, I was a believer. I felt compelled to preach it to my friends, parents anyone who would listen to me. How could another human being live and die without experiencing this? I felt stretched across the vastness of my imagination. I thought that was it, I had arrived, and this was how it was going to be until the day I died.

    I don’t quite know what or how it happened, but I crashed, hard. It took another 5 years or thereabouts to come to some kind of standstill.

    I had to start rebuilding my foundations with something a little more solid. While rumaging around in the ruins, I caught a glint of another shiny object in the rubble. It was a book on Astronomy that my grandfather had bought me for my 10th birthday. Having a passing interest in Astronomy back then, and out of reverence for my grandfather, I always kept a place on my bookshelf for it, and carted it with me whenever I moved to a new home. I’m so glad I did, because between that and my old rock collection, I have never looked back. Nowadays, the REAL! Jewels, the ones in that image above have replaced the ‘jewels’ in my head that I thought were real.

    With the jewels in the image above, I know I can turn my back on them at anytime, and know for sure that they will be right there when I turn back around to look for them again. The vast distances in the image above make the vast distances in my mind seem positively claustrophobic by comparison, and fill me with a greater sense of peace too.

    Apologies all for the War & Peace-like outpouring, but Phil will continue to put up such inspiring posts! ;)

    Thanks again for all your output over the years.

    Ganzy

  104. I love looking at the night sky and feeling a part of it all: insignificant perhaps, but included. I am thankful that I can learn about our Universe through the efforts and photographs of others. Thank you, Phil, for your continued efforts at enlightenment. I will continue to look and appreciate.

  105. J

    The universe: a big enough place that it’s a legitimate question whether it’s statistically the next best thing to inevitable that I’m making this same post on a duplicate Earth right now, somewhere far beyond our Hubble horizon.

  106. In the end, when you make that effort, this is one of most important lessons you learn: we’re a part of all this. A unique part. And that’s a fine thing to know.

    The most important lesson we can learn is that we are gleefully destroying all of Earth right now without any guilt or or remorse.

    Yay Earth Destruction !!!

    Yay Mars Exploration !!!

  107. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Douglas Watts : Er .. Huh??? :roll:

    How is that anything to do with this opening post?

    Who says we’re destroying Earth? Not the BA above, not me & not many others that’s for sure.

    Yes, we have our problems of various sorts but we are also working on solutions to them too. We’re pretty clever and pretty capable sentient monkeys, I’d say we have a good chance of beating them.

    Our civilisation might – as an outside chance with slim odds of coming to pass – fall victim to a now unlikley seeming nuclear war or collapse in some other way; we might have a bad case of global overheating and biodiversity loss but the Earth has been through a lot of mass extinctions before and recovered eventually and we’re pretty capable of surviving some incredible things. I’m cautiously optimistic about teh future -and confident that technologyand science is our best tool for improving things for ourselves and therest of the biosphere.

    Destroying the Earth? Nup, I can’t see that happening. Our Sun turning Red Giant in a few billion years time is still the most likely cause of that with proton decay in numbers with so many zeroes after them we can’t even name them a distant second. ;-)

    Plus who says we’re “not feeling guilt or remorse” – there are plenty of environmentalists who bewail the state of everything some going so far overboard & being so absurd as to give the rest of them a bad name. :-(

    Yay Mars exploration? Certainly! Of course! Wish there was more of it actually occuring.

    Yay earth destruction? Nah, I’ll boo that one – and I’ll also point out its NOT actually happening.

    Finally, I’ll point out that those are NOT zero-sum options – we can explore Mars and still work on ways of “saving the planet” (by which, I’m guessing, you’re meaning the usual environmentalist stuff) at the same time. Exploring Mars will, I think, *help* not hinder in the latter goal. It will increase our knowledge & improve our technology in ways we probably can’t even guess at yet.

  108. Michel

    Dear Dr.Phil,
    Recently I heard on Discovery (or was it on Natinonal Geographic. Program was called “The Universe” or “How the universe works”. Anyway you appeared to in the program, so you must know) that in the future we will collide with the Andromeda Nebula. (old news). However they found two small galaxies that are colliding right now with our galaxy.
    So what I want to know is:
    - were are they?
    - how much time do we´ve got left?
    - will this affect my insurance policies?
    Seems they are at a hard place to observe.

  109. Scott B

    The size of the universe is ridiculously large but that by itself isn’t what really gets to me. It’s that the speed limit we’re held to is so ridiculously slow in comparison that we have no hope of ever experiencing even a fraction of it. It’s a sad joke that creation has given us the minds to discover this and imagine the multitude of possibilities that exist out there, but limit us so much as to never be able to verify most of the possibilities.

  110. BLA

    Love it. Phil at his best.

    For all of you with questions about reaching the edge of the expanindg universe or is the universe infinite or finite, might I suggest the Astronomy Cast podcast. Download them all -listen and learn. It is both informative and very entertaining.

  111. Nigel Depledge

    Radwaste (40) said:

    Practically speaking, nobody else has your fingerprints, but nothing rules it out.

    Actually, that a person’s fingerprints are unique is far from demonstrated.

    It is eminently possible for several unrelated people to have fingerprints that are so nearly identical that it makes no odds. IIUC, forensic scientists are moving away from using fingerprints to identify individuals, because the grounds to argue against the identification are too well established.

  112. Messier Tidy Upper

    @108. Michel :

    Dear Dr.Phil, .. they found two small galaxies that are colliding right now with our galaxy. So what I want to know is:
    - were are they?
    - how much time do we´ve got left?
    - will this affect my insurance policies?
    Seems they are at a hard place to observe.

    Well I’m not Phil Plait (sorry, I do have my failings of which that is one! ;-) ) but might these :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagittarius_Dwarf_Elliptical_Galaxy

    &

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canis_Major_Dwarf_Galaxy

    wikipedia links be helpful and what you’re thinking of by any chance?

    See also :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_Group

    which has a listing of nearby galaxies.

    People’s opinions on Wikipedia vary and, natch, its worth checking relevant pint sources to verify and get more info but its not a bad starting point & seems to be a pretty good source on astronomy as far as I can tell.

  113. Nigel Depledge

    Sam H (57) said:

    This is where I return to my ID comment – even if a Intelligent Designer is supposedly more “complex” and cannot be predicted or explained, that doesn’t matter if said entity explains the data.

    Go on then – who do you think designed the Designer?

    When trying to explain data, there exist an infinite number of possibilities. However, there is only one right answer. How to choose between potential answers? The principle of parsimony guides us. Thus, in science, the simplest explanation that fits all the data is accepted as “right” unless new evidence comes to light to show it to be incomplete or wrong. This process gives us gradually more and more accurate approximations to the way in which reality behaves.

    Hitching your hopes onto some undiscovered, unknown future natural explanation is no different than “God of the gaps”

    Actually, it’s completely different from GOTG.

    The GOTG argument holds that god operates in those areas where science does not (yet) have any answers. It is the classic argument from ignorance, most simply expressed as “science does not explain X, therefore god did it”.

    OTOH, hoping that science will one day explain certain phenomena that it currently does not is the simple acceptance of two things: (a) “We don’t know yet” and (b) “We have some pretty smart people working on that”.

    Given the advances that science has made in the last 400 years, we have absolutely no way of predicting what may or may not be accessible to science in – say – the next 4,000 years, or 40,000 years.

    So, GOTG is the rejection of “we don’t know yet” as an acceptable answer. Living with the hope or expectation that what we do not know now will one day become known is the acceptance of “we don’t know yet” as an answer.

    – all that matters is the evidence you have now.

    The evidence one has now decides what conclusions one may draw, and how much confidence one should have in those conclusions. It does not allow one to project beyond what is currently known and anticipate what may or may not become known in the future.

    Remember the Holmesian principle on the impossible and improbable – if no simpler explanation exists, then what you see is what you get!

    Actually, Holmes stated that, once you have eliminated the impossible then what remains, no matter how improbable, is the truth. However, this approach is far more valuable in making deductions about known things (people) than about unknown things (e.g. how the big bang started). The reason is simple: how can you ever know that you have ruled out all of the “impossible” explanations?

    In ID, Dembski’s “filter” suffers from the same weakness (among others). He dismisses unimagined hypotheses as impossible with nothing more than arm-waving. In short, his only argument for ID is actually a collective set of arguments against everything that isn’t ID. He dismisses any possibility that has yet to be thought of (without adequate justification) and then presents the false dichotomy of evolution or ID as the only possible explanations. He uses arguments from ignorance, arguments from personal incredulity and strawman attacks to remove evolution from the running, and then concludes ID.

    Real science, OTOH, demands that you draw conclusions from positive evidence (i.e. evidence that supports the proposed explanation) not from an absence of negative evidence. In reality, such an ideal is not always attainable, so one then must rely on the principle of parsimony to guide one to the most reasonable of possible explanations.

    It is for these reasons (and others that I shan’t go into today) that we can say with confidence that even if our ideas about evolution are wrong in some fashion, they do at least give us a good approximation to how biology really behaves.

  114. Michel

    @115. Messier Tidy Upper
    Thanks for the links!
    It was just something my ear picked up while I was cooking and not really paying attention.
    But it nagged me.
    And later on it faccinated me that those two are allready colliding.

  115. Anne

    Sure it’s big, but can you imagine how much it costs to keep it heated?

  116. Michel

    @118. Anne
    The Universe is for free.
    Don´t believe me?
    Go outside and look up.
    No charge.
    (Unless you buy a telescope. In that case you´ll keep spending and spending and spending…)

  117. Messier Tidy Upper

    @116. Nigel Depledge : Go on then – who do you think designed the Designer?

    The Designer’s Designer! ;-)

    @117. Michel : No worries, my pleasure. :-)

  118. Sam H

    Well, yet again I get a lot of expectable answers, even one from the man! I read the post Phil, and I’ll just say that I don’t think science is based on faith. And while I disagree with almost everything they say (c’mon, just because you think science is “fallible” gives you an excuse to deny it?), but I feel they do have a point on one thing – absolute objectivism in science is impossible. As individuals (emphasis on previous two words), people do come to the evidence within their own worldviews. It isn’t impossible to put them away for a little bit, but not always easy. When a large group of scientists that have different individual worldviews converge, generally objectivism can be obtained. But when you have a theory that works extremely well with all the evidence for a long time such as Newtonian gravity, the elegance of such theories can cause people to begin to develop emotional attachments to them. Then Einstein and quantum theory comes along, and people are forced to give it up – but not without difficulty. Another example is ol’ Richard Dawkins: in his beautiful prose he writes about how he’d give up evolution if Precambrian rabbit prints came along. But based on how he praises the theory’s power and elegance, he would not give it up without difficulty. For some this may be easier than others, but the idea of a purely detached, purely objective scientist is almost certainly a myth – unless said scientist is a Vulcan post-Kolinahr. ;)

    Nigel: Your comments have cleared some stuff up for me. Indeed, eliminating everything impossible wouldn’t be easy. I already knew what Holmes said (although I never read any of the books, but I did see the recent Robert Downey Jr. film dubbed in French), and I know about Occ’s razor. Your comments drove me to some further research, and I can better understand some of the objections.
    But I have come under the impression that the strict commitment to the classical rules of science may be going too far in some cases. The universe will never stop surprising us, and while we can have good faith that science will provide the answers in time, we shouldn’t always go for unjustified speculation that goes beyond what evidence we have now. By classical rules of science ID isn’t science, but just because it can’t fit in we shouldn’t dismiss it as a total impossibility. The universe has always proven itself to be beyond our comprehension – so we shouldn’t dismiss out of hand what doesn’t work for us immediately. I haven’t read Dembski or Miller or anyone else yet, but when I do I’ll remember to keep an open mind, and look out for how philosophy influences either side. This likely won’t be my last comment related to ID, so I just hope people don’t regard the lone dissenter as a troll or something here on my fav blog. Besides, these debates are danged interesting!! :)

    As for the rest of Nigel’s comment, I’ll mention that while I barely know crap about the intricacies of quantum theory (I dropped Math this year, BTW), as a personal preference I believe in gravitomagnetism – which we all know is a certain possibility. As to whether or not such a force can be manipulated – well, I REALLY freaking hope so!!! :D

    Now I’ll just leave it at that. I’m not even supposed to be on here anyway – my Chem final is tomorrow, and I still have only a cursory knowledge of stochiometry!!! :( :o
    PS (Could somebody please direct me to a list of the codes for smileys, and italic/bold text, if such a list exists? Thanks!)

  119. mif

    if we were meant to lo ok up we would have eyes in the top of our heads .

  120. Michel

    “PS (Could somebody please direct me to a list of the codes for smileys, and italic/bold text, if such a list exists? Thanks!)”
    You tried google?

  121. Joel

    It’s a truly wonderful image. It always takes my breath away when we get images like this when you can see Galaxies through other Galaxies.

  122. Razorhog

    Excellent post. Reminds me of Tony Darnell’s “The Most Important Image Ever Taken” video . Truly awe-inspiring, our universe is. Enough to make one use Yoda-speak :-)

  123. GuyS

    Phil – Love your posts on all topics, but this especially. Like another commenter I distinctl remember my reaction on first seeing the Hubble Deep Field image the first time. I still remain awed and humbled by it. Hubble would have been worth all of its expense to take that image. Thankfully we got so very much more.

  124. ND

    Sam H Says: “By classical rules of science ID isn’t science, but just because it can’t fit in we shouldn’t dismiss it as a total impossibility. The universe has always proven itself to be beyond our comprehension – so we shouldn’t dismiss out of hand what doesn’t work for us immediately.”

    Not just classical rules of science but by today’s rules of science* ID cannot be considered at the same level as scientific theories such as those about Evolution. It cannot be discussed as science and should not be taught in a science class, because it has not passed scientific rigor, lacks evidence. It’s based on creationism. Note that by ID I’m assuming you mean the creationism that was rebranded as Intelligent Design and attempted to be forced into classrooms recently.

    * Actually what does classical rules man anyway? Is there something different about today’s science versus a more classical one?

  125. Bob

    @Sam #121

    Thanks for continuing the conversation and not turning it into a typical Godwinned ID/Evolution internet flame war.

    To continue what ND says above (#127), ID simply doesn’t fit a scientific model of hypothesis. That’s why it gets dismissed out of hand. I hate to invoke this, but The Pink Teacup (et al) are the classic examples of poor hypothesis that are used to demonstrate the problem.

    I don’t mean this to be an indictment of you (perhaps of our school systems though) – you mention you have a Chem class you should be studying for…I’m a bit incredulous that developing hypothesis and understanding the scientific method haven’t been extensively covered in your science classes. I find it disturbing that any student can make it to college without these two things being very well understood. (Again, no indictment of you but rather the failings of our school systems, which pisses me off to no end). But I’m glad your here and reading (what some people smarter than I am) have to say.

    In your post you stated “people are forced to give [up well-established scientific theories]– but not without difficulty” as an indictment of scientists. In fact, this is a great compliment, and clearly shows the difference between faith and science.

    To paraphrase Chris Rock (in “Dogma”), someone with a belief will find it impossible to change, but ideas can be changed when a new idea comes along. People have a personal stake in belief, but not so much in ideas.

    Faith is all about belief regardless of facts/evidence.

    Science is about ideas based on currently known facts/evidence.

    Faith is unwilling to change, for any reason, since facts have no bearing.

    Science is unwilling to change, without sufficient reason or evidence.

    Let’s suppose you discovered evidence stating 2+2=5. Would you change the math rules you learned as a child, i.e. 2+2=4? Why not? Well, because some 3000 years of math “experiments” (every mathematical problem ever) supports this conclusion. Far more “bits” of evidence for 2+2=4 than the one bit you discovered supporting 2+2=5.

    If we were to change 2+2 to equal 5, then EVERYTHING that came before would have to change – every calculation would be mistaken. Keep in mind all those calculations already support the hypothesis that 2+2=4. So if I say that’s wrong, the onus is meto explain how those millions of results are inaccurate and yet still resolved the problems they were a part of. I can’t just say they’re incorrect without a new answer for how they still “worked” while being inaccurate. (I.E. Quantum Theory vs Newtonian Mechanics)

    So this is why scientists are unwilling to quickly change to new contradictory theories – it would require discarding well-established (and well-evidenced) models. Any new, contradictory theory must be able to explain how to resolve ALL the inevitable conflicts it would introduce with very-well-established Theories.

    If I come up and say “gravity doesn’t exist”, then I have to demonstrate a new model that explains why we all don’t go flying off the planet from centripetal acceleration (and everything else that gravity does for us). It has to support the existing system in exactly the same way as the theory it replaces.

    Hope that helps – I realize I’m not the best person to be explaining these things. I understand how science approaches proof, and I appreciate the model it provides for finding the most likely theory. I was really hoping someone else would try explaining good hypothesis.

    PS. My apologies for having a bit of a knee-jerk response to your initial questions about ID and change. On science blogs any mention of ID usually comes from trollers…and I’m easily agitated… :-O

  126. Don Ryan

    No one responded to my quiry or postulate or just plain dumb observation.
    #88. I’m crestfallen

  127. Cosmonut

    Wonderful post, Phil. (although I’ve come to expect that from you :) )

    As always, part of the discussion seems to have degenerated into a theist vs skeptic slugfest.
    Since many readers have evoked Carl Sagan, here’s one of my favourite dialogues from Contact.

    Ellie Arroway has returned from her incredible trip to the Galaxy’s centre and is speaking to the priest Palmer Joss.
    Ellie: “What happened to me makes us all seem very small”
    Palmer: “But it also makes God very big”

    The same can apply to our experience of the Universe.
    You could be content to revel in the magnificence of the Universe in and of itself.
    Or you could be awestruck by the ‘grandeur of God’ revealed in the splendor of the Universe.

    What is near impossible to reconcile with our Universe is the traditional Abrahamic religion view of a “little god”, who made everything 6000 years ago, and all for the sake of us humans !

  128. wj

    You give an excellent presentation and I agree with you on most things…..But you make my argument for me as I say the Universe ” IS ” Infinite,and the simple fact (as you say) that we cannot see nor detect the limits of it Proves My point empirically…But let us not digress into a religious debate …beginning and end is a human concept…..The Universe needs no human law or permission to be what it is….It is in our basic makeup to seek …always to seek…to quantify…and pigeonhole….These seemingly opposing things (the cosmos and us) actually compliment each other in their complexities………Oh btw ….to the reader who says there are multiple Universes ” Mystically ? ” Bullocks …The possibility of Multiveres is as Plausible as our own Singular version by scientific explanation alone….But it is not a large stretch of the imagination to believe …..just as we believe and continue to search for other Earth like planets,Simply because We Can ……..

  129. George Martin

    My previous posts raised several questions that have gone unanswered. But by now I’ve done enough research that I feel fairly confident in my criticism of this post: Some things Phil says are incomplete, others just aren’t necessarily so. To talk about the vast size of the universe, using examples from the observable universe, is incomplete without mentioning that the observable universe may be a small fraction of the entire universe, even an infinitesimally small fraction of the entire universe if the universe is infinite. For example, check out this answer to the question, “How can the universe be infinite if it was all concentrated into a point at the Big Bang?”

    http://www.astro.ucla.edu/~wright/infpoint.html

    Phil says that “It stretches on and on… and while it’s finite — it has an actual size…” That’s not necessarily so by the above link, the source below and other links I’ve given in these comments. (Phil does mention that the universe is “practically” infinite because of the speed of expansion, but it may be infinite even without that.)

    At the end of the post, Phil says that “this is one of most important lessons you learn: we’re a part of all this. A unique part.” It (the unique part) just isn’t necessarily so, Phil! At least according to professor of physics and astronomy Max Tegmark in a Scientific American special report on parallel universes published a few years ago. The article begins:

    “Is there a copy of you reading this article? A person who is not you but who lives on a planet called Earth…The life of this person has been identical to yours in every respect…

    The idea of such an alter ego seems strange and implausible, but it looks as if we will just have to live with it, because it is supported by astronomical observations. The simplest and most popular cosmological model today predicts that you have a twin in a galaxy about 10 to the 10^28 meters from here…” In the overview it is stated: “Space appears to be infinite in size. If so, then everything that is possible becomes real [given that the universe is homogenous], no matter how improbable.” The visible universe is finite, composed of a random distribution of particles. If the universe is infinite, then every possible random distribution of particles will exist somewhere, including the state our universe is now. The vastness of the visible universe may boggle the mind, but it’s literally nothing compared to the inexhaustible immensity of infinity.

    GM

  130. Note on mission of Star Trek

    Don’t be ever trapped inside your (mind) brain somatic structure without awareness of possibility (not probability as basic mind set of science) that higher level of consciousness exist as the hub to the next Universe beyond our/your Physical Universe as well as Inner Universe. The next or the third Universe is Divine Universe as the Human Final Frontier! So, “To Boldly Go Where Some People Have Gone Before” not “To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before” as Star Trek mentioning “Space – The Human Final Frontier”

  131. Steven
  132. Nigel Depledge

    Sam H (121) said:

    Nigel: Your comments have cleared some stuff up for me.

    My pleasure.

    Indeed, eliminating everything impossible wouldn’t be easy. I already knew what Holmes said (although I never read any of the books, but I did see the recent Robert Downey Jr. film dubbed in French), and I know about Occ’s razor. Your comments drove me to some further research, and I can better understand some of the objections.

    I’m glad to hear this. Despite the risk of derailing a thread, I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about ID vs evolution – I have read extensively around both what is claimed by the ID authors and the scientific answers to it, as well as having a background in biochemistry (most of my work has been in enzymology and protein science).

    However, for a more extensive set of articels with references, I strongly recommend Talk Origins (I think the URL is www[dot]talkorigins[dot]org).

    But I have come under the impression that the strict commitment to the classical rules of science may be going too far in some cases.

    I’m not sure what you mean here.

    It is my understanding that science takes the approach “don’t tell me, show me”. I.e. a conclusion will only stand in science if it: (1) is supported by all the available evidence; (2) is logical; and (3) is consistent with stuff that is already known with a high degree of confidence.

    ID is not supported by any evidence. ID (as expounded by Behe, Dembski, Wells et al.) is not logical (both because it violates Occam’s razor and because it leads to the infinitely recurring question “if design is necessary to explain complexity, who designed the designer?”). ID is not consistent with what is already known because it appeals to some unknown entity or force to have designed various aspects of biology.

    The universe will never stop surprising us, and while we can have good faith that science will provide the answers in time, we shouldn’t always go for unjustified speculation that goes beyond what evidence we have now.

    Agreed. Did you think I was trying to speculate beyond the evidence we have now?

    By classical rules of science ID isn’t science, but just because it can’t fit in we shouldn’t dismiss it as a total impossibility.

    I wasn’t. As well as not being science, ID is illogical and unnecessary. It violates parsimony, so it is not worth devoting any serious time to. I’m not saying it’s impossible, merely that if there is a designer, that designer used an evolutionary process as a design tool. If you postulate a god that is intangible and yet omniscient and omnipotent, this is impossible to disprove (as is the invisible pink unicorn in my back garden).

    I can quite happily accept a version of theistic evolution whereby god set everything up at the beginning to develop as science has found, eventually arriving at the present day and us. I recognise, however, that this view is irrational, because god is not necessary. The universe looks exactly the way we should expect it to if everything happened through natural processes.

    The universe has always proven itself to be beyond our comprehension

    I disagree. Many aspects of the universe that were initially thought to be beyond out comprehension have been shown to be accessible to investigation and understanding. Who is to say that we might not one day understand it all?

    – so we shouldn’t dismiss out of hand what doesn’t work for us immediately.

    What about something that has been taken to pieces by the experts in the relevant field? The core idea of ID – that it is possible for us to detect dewsign in nature – is flawed both theologically (e.g. ID demands that the designer necessarily had to tinker with their creation, and that they had to do so in such a way that they left their fingerprints all over it) and logically (we don’t even know how to detect design as an intrinsic property of a thing – all of the examples I have seen from the ID authors claim to detect design but instead either detect manufacture or they tacitly use pre-existing background knowledge).

    I haven’t read Dembski or Miller or anyone else yet, but when I do I’ll remember to keep an open mind, and look out for how philosophy influences either side.

    Actually, I’d recommend you start with Darwin, and then at least one modern evolutionary biologist or palaeontologist (such as, for example, Richard Fortey, who is an expert on trilobites). That will arm you to spot where the ID authors misrepresent what evolutionary biology actually is.

    This likely won’t be my last comment related to ID, so I just hope people don’t regard the lone dissenter as a troll or something here on my fav blog. Besides, these debates are danged interesting!!

    Likewise, I hope people will tolerate my lengthy excursions on this topic, because – as a biochemist with an educational background that is uncomfortably similar to Michael Behe’s – I feel it is extremely important.

    As for the rest of Nigel’s comment, I’ll mention that while I barely know crap about the intricacies of quantum theory (I dropped Math this year, BTW), as a personal preference I believe in gravitomagnetism – which we all know is a certain possibility. As to whether or not such a force can be manipulated – well, I REALLY freaking hope so!!!

    And I have no idea what gravitomagnetism is supposed to be, so I’ll leave that for others.

    Now I’ll just leave it at that. I’m not even supposed to be on here anyway – my Chem final is tomorrow, and I still have only a cursory knowledge of stochiometry!!!

    Good luck with the exam.

    PS (Could somebody please direct me to a list of the codes for smileys, and italic/bold text, if such a list exists? Thanks!)

    I don’t think there’s a list, but they are standard html tags. Use “less than” and “greater than” symbols (sometimes known as angle brackets) to indicate the beginning and end of each tag, then use “i” for italics, “b” for bold and so on. The tag to switch off a style is the same thing preceded by an oblique stroke (thus, “/i”, “/b” etc.).

    I recently discovered a smiley code by accident : 8 ) (where the “8″ and the “)” are not separated) is the sunglasses smiley, thus: 8) .

    I think you’ve already got all the others I know, except the winking smiley, which uses a semicolon in place of the colon, sorta like this: ; – ) (but without the spaces between the symbols). Looks like this: ;-)

  133. gia

    This isn’t the first such example I’ve read and frankly, it always feels incredibly depressing and lonely.

  134. Messier Tidy Upper

    @121. Sam H. asking :

    Could somebody please direct me to a list of the codes for smileys, and italic/bold text, if such a list exists? Thanks!

    This got mentioned & provided recently on another thread here – the Gifford shooting aftermath one of all things actually – see :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/01/09/the-immediate-aftermath-of-tragedy/#comment-351651

    Comment #265 by me on January 11th, 2011 at 5:03 am if the link fails to work right – original BA blog thread titled The immediate aftermath of tragedy and posted on the 9th of January 2011 at 7:00 AM.

    Probably posting this too late, alas, but still I hope it helps. :-)

  135. S

    The vastness is well explained but there are several flaws mixed up in this post. Expanding universe that is finite.. can you provide sources for this? Also recent theoretical quantum dynamic papers argue that there maybe ‘another’ you (in fact quite a few ‘other’ you’s) . Just a thought!

  136. Thameron

    Sure some of the (often false color, long term exposure or digitally enhanced) images are pretty but to paraphrase another doctor, Doctor Seuss, you could easily rename astronomy as ‘Oh the places you WON’T go.’ Earth could just as easily be labeled our prison as our home, because as of right now we do not have the choice to leave and any place you can’t leave is by definition a prison.

    All of that is a matter of interpretation of course. The universe is neither inherently beautiful nor ugly, wonderful or terrible it just is. It is also difficult to feel particularly wonderful about existence since given the laws of physics and the initial conditions each of us was inevitable.

  137. slw

    To see a world in a grain of sand…

  138. The author said ” If you could somehow hitch a ride on a photon, the fastest thing in the cosmos, you’d still never reach the edge of the Universe even if it had one. That’s because the edge would be receding away from you faster than you could reach it. You’d forever be playing catch-up. Literally, forever.”

    If I were to fasten myself to an object touching the edge of the universe, would I be moving faster than the speed of light? How about stars or galaxies or “stuff” near the edge: do the move faster than the speed of light as well? Are there any relativistic effects on mass at the edge?

  139. Nigel Depledge

    @ Allen (141) -
    Er, no.

    While, over large enough scales, space expands at or faster than the speed of light, nothing locally is moving that fast. I.e. the expansion isn’t objects moving through space, it is the space between objects that is expanding.

  140. Oh my gosh goodness! a tremendous post guy. Many thanks Nonetheless I’m experiencing subject matter together with r rss . Don’t know the reason why Not able to subscribe to it. Will there be any person acquiring equal rss disadvantage? Anybody who knows generously react. Thnkx

  141. Geez, Phil, you gave me the chills! It’s so…mind-boggling to sit back and consider how tiny we are in the grand scheme of things, and then to remember that there are things even smaller than us! It makes my head get all woozy just thinking about how much there is out there to discover, and how little we’ve really explored. Oy.

  142. The worst thing about taking a plane to the sun: You have to remain seated for the last five years of the flight.

  143. The worst thing about taking a plane to the sun: You have to remain seated for the last five years of the flight..

  144. krejs

    so we cant ever reach the end of the universe? sounds like the universe is a black hole then too and as far as expanding goes, couldn’t it also be that the universe is dividing down the space inside, thus making it look to us that it’s expanding… anyway too much red bull today, very nice article! cheers.

  145. Yogi

    It is interesting to note that the largest discovered star in the universe is VY Canis Majoris. Its diameter is such that to circumnavigate it ONCE will take us close to 2000 earth years. So i guess if we boarded a standard passenger aircraft around when Christ walked the earth, we would finish one trip about now provided we lived that long. Yeahhh… we could do it faster if the Concorde was still around. Probably in about 800 years. I suppose there would never be a shortage of fuel ;-)

    And that is one star among the trillions. Space is HUGE and we earthlings are like an atom.

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