How Big Is Big? – Time For Some PerspectiveSeptember 27, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Posted in Regular Feature, Science News | Leave a comment
Tags: Galaxies, Hubble, The Universe
This week for science Tuesday I thought I would share an excellent series of pictures a reader emailed me that lend a little perspective to how small we really are. In the vernacular I use in this column I often refer to planet Earth as “our little blue marble” or occasionally I wax a bit less eloquent and call her “this mudball”. From a certain more cosmic point of view though, we don’t even rate that large.
I would love to give credit to whoever created these pictures. Sadly I found it difficult to google an image. I do not know where they originated but if they are your work please verify that in some reasonable way as I would be happy to credit you.
First, let’s have a look at Earth in relation to our closest celestial neighbors.
Looking good for our little blue marble, yes? By the way, I am aware that Pluto isn’t nearby and I’m not even going to get into the “is it a planet” thing but it’s there for further perspective. Now let’s see how we stack up against some of the heavy hitters in the Solar System.
Well yeah, we’re looking a little eensy once it got all Jovian up in here. I mean, not so smug sitting there in front of Uranus are ya? Yup, by the time we weigh in with the gas giants in the neighborhood we start to get a Napoleon complex going. Then we remember there is an even bigger dog on the block.
Weighing in at roughly 12,000 times the surface area of Earth, with a mass 333,000 times as dense, I give you Sol, big dog of the solar system. At five billion years old it is only about halfway through its expected lifespan as it converts hydrogen to helium in its ten million degree core. I might add it poses for the prettiest pictures over the mountains and lakes of northern Maine from time to time as well.
So there we have it. The biggest dogs in… …. I’m sorry, what’s that? Oh I see. Still not massive enough for you? OK then, I suppose we could find something in an extra large. How about:
Yes, less than forty light years away is Arcturus and roughly a thousand times the size of our sun. You want larger still? Sure, we have larger still.
It would seem even Arcturus can be made to feel small. By now we are in orders of magnitude so much smaller than our planet that your computer screen would have to be the size of North America for Earth to reappear as a pixel. Besides being some of the heaviest hitters in our galaxy the Milky Way (named after the candy bar of course), we see where Papa Noida got the idea for some of the planets in his galaxy far far away.
So we’ve gotten pretty huge here. Honestly, I think it is impossible for the human mind to wrap itself around the idea of just how huge the hugeness of these stellar objects are. I admit it’s past my ability to imagine it but if you’re still game, let’s go universal shall we?
Some of the light from the galaxies pictured above is just coming to us from the far reaches of the universe and have been traveling toward us since the dawn of existence. Here in the 21ST century it seems the speed of light is the only barrier to what we can observe. Many of the stars and many of the galaxies pictured here may have died or grown cold millions of years ago and it may be millions of years still before their final projections of light die in the skies of our humble system.
I have one more even closer shot. Zoom that Hubble in, baby.
So I ask you dear reader, what problems did you face today? If life is ever beating you down, just remember to keep a little perspective. It’s a great big universe out there, folks.