Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Giving "Billions and Billions" A Whole New Meaning...

I want you to click here. Just do it. It's safe for work.

Okay, now that you're back...is that amazing or is that amazing?

That photo is a result of several exposures totaling 48 hours late this past summer, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, and some of the galaxies shown are 13 billion light years away (in case you've forgotten your astronomy, 1 light year = around 6 trillion miles). Basically, that means when you look at that photo, you are looking 13 billion years into the past. That, all by itself, is mind-boggling, as far as I'm concerned.

But that's not all.

Each of the bits of light in that photo is a separate galaxy, not just one star, like most of what we can see when we go out and look up into the night sky.

What? You don't do that? Well, you should. It's pretty.

Anyway. Each one of those galaxies is made up of billions of stars. Take the Milky Way, for example. Our galaxy contains somewhere around 200 billion stars. Multiply an approximation of that by each galaxy in that photo, and you've got a lot of stars. A lot of planets, too, probably.

Which is interesting to think about, I think. Imagine all the possibilities presented by that many stars, that many planets, that many...places.

Well, who knows what has happened in the intervening 13 billion years. All those stars might be nothing but cinders now, and their planets with them. Still, I don't know how anyone can look at a photo like that and not have the words, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." occur to them for at least a little while.

Yeah. We might be the only intelligent life in the universe (and I sometimes have doubts about us, even). But we might not, too. And if we are not...what might have happened out there, over all that time and in all that space?

We'll never know, of course.

But it's a lot of fun to think about.


C. L. Hanson said...

That is so cool!!!

My kids are really interested in astronomy (and big numbers) these days, so we've been following Hubble's research. It's certainly a funner example for contemplating big numbers than calculating the national debt...

littlemissattitude said...

I've always loved looking at the night sky, and these sorts of photos always intrigue me.

And maybe it's because I was brought up to be a science fiction fan, but my thoughts when I see a photo like that one is always to wonder...what's gone on out there, or is going on out there.

I also subscribe to the saying (and I can't remember who said it first, although it might have been Arthur C. Clarke), "The universe is not only stranger than we imagine; it's stranger than we can imagine."

And, yeah, calculating the national debit is just depressing, while looking at the stars is, for me at least, exhilirating.