Saturday, April 18, 2009

WILATU #6 - astronomy and astrophysics

Ignorance is bliss. I will now attempt to remove some of your ignorance so you can take a step closer to being a miserable bastard like me. One of the quickest ways to do this, and one of my favorite subjects, is the wonderful mind-fuck of how big the universe is. (The size of the universe is definitely part of What I Like about the Universe.)

My friend J(son) sent me an e-mail with pictures dealing with the scale of Earth in the universe. I could not get the graphic he sent to scale down to fit in Blogger and still maintain readable resolution, so some diligent Googling found a YouTube clip that uses the same source photos. Please note that this only deals with scale, not distance:



Serendipitously, I had been explaining to Red a few days before about Local Groups, Galaxy Clusters, and Superclusters, because the giant stars in that video only start to hurt your brain cells when you realize how far apart they all are. The Superclusters then form fibers and walls around mind-boggling voids. Imagine two sheets of paper with the Hubble deep field image printed on them making an X and nothing else around the X. This creates a "lumpy" universe until you get to a perimeter known as "The End of Greatness." This is where you are so far out that the lumpiness doesn't matter anymore. Everything becomes relatively uniform again. And that limit lies well within the Visible Universe, which is only a fraction of the Known Universe*.

Even our solar system is so much bigger than you think (without even getting into the 172 moons.) The orbits of the terrestrial planets all but disappear when you get to the Kuiper Belt where Pluto and Eris (the erstwhile 10th/12th planet) are. Then there is the orbit of Sedna (another planetoid) in the Scattered Disc region which is the inner extent of the Oort cloud where all the comets hang out. Then there is all this other crazy shit with the Sun's gravity and cosmic rays and then you have to go through all of that backwards to get to the next star. if you do that about 100,000 more times you may get across the Milky Way (the most deliciously named galaxy in the universe!) Then there are intergalactic distances before you get into the whole Local Group again.

I also found this History Chanel program chopped up into YouTube sized clips. I am going to watch this now. I will let you know how it ends. (Speaking of "how it ends," if you go by the popularly accepted expanding universe model, there has to be an end or an edge since the Big Bang occurred a finite amount of time in the past. So what is on the other side of that edge?)

Bonus mind-fuck: All of this shit, all of the matter and light and energy in the universe, is just a Weight Watchers sized wedge cut out of the pie chart of what the universe is comprised of. But then that is getting back into quantum mechanics.

Any questions?


*This is a clip manipulating a computer model of the known universe set very appropriately to some Pink Floyd. I am assuming that the bright node they are focusing on at the end is the Local Group with the Milky Way being the big bright disc and Andromeda the slightly smaller one.

Non-asterisked aside: For the Modest Mouse fans out there, here is a shot of the Moon(s) and Antarctica.

15 comments:

Red said...

See, even though I agree with you that the universe is BIG and the mind fuck is way cool, I don't obsess about it and get all depressed. Who's the genius now, hmm?

SkylersDad said...

Thanks for posting this. I had seen something along the lines of that scale before that was passed around email chains.

I am always reminded of an old cartoon of the Galileo probe falling off the end of a flat structure like it was a table and declaring it had found the end of the known universe.

theideaofprogress said...

The universe revolves around the gravitational pull of the Idea of Progress's ego.

That's what I tell myself, anyway.

Red said...

The really big mind-fuck is that the gravitational pull of the egos of all the bloggers in the world, including The Idea of Progress AND Pistols at Dawn are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. This makes some, like my darling Genius, ask "What's the point of any of it? Why bother?" But I say let's worry about the big things we can see and comprehend - New York City, the sky in Montana, the massive egos of our blogosphere, whatever. Because even though we can marvel at the fact that science can detect and tell us ofthings that are 13 BILLION LIGHT YEARS away, no one, no probe, no anything is ever going to get there. What good would it even be if we could? It's nice to reflect on the big stuff, maybe, but obsessing over it isn't going to help anyone.

Evil Genius said...

As you well know, Red. I sweat the small stuff too. And not just what an appropriate outfit would be to leave my apartment and feed the parking meter, but also what flavor are the quarks that make the protons in my body? Or how far away are the anti-particles that offset those quarks and do they form an exact Bizarro Evil Genius?

Evil Genius said...

(This is my subtle way of indicating that I need to get laid.)

Evil Genius said...

Also, @IoP: Because the universe is uniform in all directions beyond the End of Greatness, any point could arguably be the center of the universe. Because all of our observations are made from Earth and any distance would be measured 360 out from here, we are the de facto center. America is the reigning empire like Britain and Rome before. I could make a better argument that New York or Chicago is the center of America, but Portland is a stretch. But at least I got you that close to proving your theory.

And thanks for popping in!

Evil Genius said...

I have also been trying to calculate the gravitational center of our blog circle. The focus of the orbits seems to shift. I have tracked it around from Grant to Dale to Chris to Pistols to Fawless to Whiskey and so on. It would seem that there are two or more invisible or non-luminous masses hovering at the edge of the blogosphere exerting a pull that shifts these orbits. According to early models of the blogosphere,this would indicate that Dead Spot would be the center of the universe, though it may be a binary system with the Idea of Progress at the other barycenter. However, since I am the one that figured this out, I get to name it. So I hereby declare this blogosphere the "What I Like About the Universe Universe."

Dale said...

I'm surprised Uranus is so big.

theideaofprogress said...

Since the Idea of Progress is like a black hole at the edge of the What I Like About the Universe Universe, exerting a small amount of influence like a butterfly's wings causing a hurricane, I'm going to use the opportunity to coin a name for the effect.

I call it Fluffy Bunnykins.

Hurray for naming rights!

Anonymous said...

speaking of planetoids, why was there no discussion of Head's head, from "So I Married An Axe Murderer"?
you know, has it's own weather system and all...

Anonymous said...

Did you say "planetoid?" Wow, that reminds me of something... I can't quite remember what... Oh, right! "Head" from So I Married An Axe Murderer. Discuss...

Evil Genius said...

Head! Pants! Now!

theideaofprogress said...

Head! Paper! Now!

disa said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.