Field of Science

Feeling really small in the Universe

Botany is a pretty mundane down-to-Earth subject compared to things studied by astronomers. These guys scare the Phactor a little bit, but still the fascination with images like the Hubble Deep Space Field, a look deep into space, remains, so if you haven't seen this enjoy. But don't think about this too much, or you begin to feel really, really, really small.
This image comes as close to making you feel like a microbe, in a tine droplet of water, about to splash into the oceans as anything not quite imaginable, and in reality there is no real way to wrap your brain around such an immensity of deep space because the human mind evolved to deal with quantities of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and many, and distances you can throw a stone or walk in a few hours. Beyond that our brain is not really very good conceptualizing really, really big or really, really small things. This image comes from an area of the sky where nearby stars in the Milky Way galaxy (which means milky) form the Big Dipper constellation, but if we imagine ourselves in a sphere, the area where this image was taken only occupies 2 parts out of a million similar sized parts it would take to occupy the whole sky. This is the same as having a field 100 meters by 100 meters, and just looking at an area 2 mm by 2 mm in the center. About 3000 objects are in this image, and all but 2 or 3 are galaxies, whirling clusters of stars as big or bigger than the Milky Way, and really, really far away, and if space is fairly uniformly filled with such things, and this is 2 millionths of the total, well, there are really, really, really a lot of galaxies out there. If you cannot or do not want to do the math, this means some 100 to 200 billion galaxies occupy the observable universe, each with 10s of millions to a trillion stars, and here we sit on “an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet, orbiting a small, unregarded yellow sun at a distance of roughly 98 million miles which is located far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the [Milky Way] Galaxy, an ape-descended life form so amazingly primitive, we still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea” (from Doug Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe), and that we alone in this universe are the pinnacle of creation of an anthropomorphic god. Just like that microbe in the drop of water.

1 comment:

Pablo Nicolas said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.