Monday, October 18, 2010

Way Cool Distance Scale

Here is a super awesome interactive scale of the universe. Distance scales like this always blow my mind. There is an exhibit just like this at the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History in NYC that does a great job of relating size and distances via models and the Hayden Sphere. Anyways I want you to take a look at it and think of the following things as you analyze the objects at various sizes:
  • At some point make sure you scroll really fast from the biggest size scale to the smallest. As you do so, think about the smallest object compared to the largest. Crazy right?
  • It is amazing to think about how small an atom is. Then think that the largest objects in the universe (stars) are made mostly out of this one material. Hydrogen is just a proton and an electron and that is like 99% of the matter of our sun. Woah!
  • There are some planets that are bigger than stars. Side note: I always get the impression that giant planets (like Jupiter) are just stars that don't have enough gravity for fusion, and have too much other matter.
  • You can have something that is 10^-35 m which is 34 zeroes between a decimal and a 1. The author and physicists say anything smaller doesn't make physical sense. This all blows my mind in multiple ways. (1) When something is smaller than 1nm I'm already perplexed by its size, so having an extra 26 zeroes doesn't make much difference. (2) By saying it doesn't make physical sense is like putting a limit on infinity. Infinity already freaks me out, but limiting it freaks me out more for some reason.
  • At some point the author demonstrates the distance between the sun and Mercury, and then there are immediately stars larger than that distance. Imagine looking up into the sky and seeing those stars where the sun would be...
  • Damn, I just saw the distance from the Sun to Jupiter and then zoomed out to see the size of Betelgeuse (Beetlejuice). That is huge and scary. 
  • At 15 Tm (10^12 m) you see the size of the solar system and the surrounding the Kuiper Belt which to my knowledge is an assortment of random junk that we were too lazy to categorize (there are a couple dwarf planets in there). Just larger than that at 20 Tm (like an extra 33% the size of the solar system is barely bigger!) is Eta Carina's shell. This is a star so big that it has been on the brink of destruction since it's creation, violently ejecting mass but making a cool image in the process. This thing could blow any day and would be a remarkable study for science!
  • At some point they start measuring things in terms of light years (the distance something traveling at the speed of light would cover in one year). I've always loved this concept, but physics crushed my dreams when I learned nothing with mass could get to that speed. Still, I wonder what it would feel like...
  • The song that plays during this thing is eerily soothing, but creepy when it's been left on for over half an hour.
  • 10^26 may as well be infinite.
  • It is somewhat depressing that the universe isn't a google meters. That would be sweet for no reason what-so-ever. It would at least be cool if the largest possible size to the smallest possible size was a difference of a google but it isn't either...
I think this study was more scary than anything, but at least it is educational. This is our world ladies and gentlemen.

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