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Dec 09

A sense of scale in the universe

Recently, there have been a lot of videos showing the relative sizes of interstellar objects like this one, and this one. Documentaries have also made similar videos. There’s even a video which brands itself as the “Ultimate Universe Objects Size Comparison“. Unfortunately, it’s been produced with spelling mistakes and trite comments.

This one, called “The Known Universe” was produced by the American Museum of Natural History (embedded at bottom of post). It’s easily the best one that I’ve seen. But can anybody explain to me why the image of the “galaxies we have mapped so far” covers two conic areas, instead of a more even distribution?

These renderings remind of a poster I had on my wall as a kid. When I was really young, my dad used to subscribe to National Geographic, and the issues often came with nice glossy posters of various things. One of the posters, published in 1983, was entitled “Journey into the Universe Through Time and Space” and dad stuck it on my bedroom wall. I loved that poster. It showed a 3D depiction of our inner solar system, and then zoomed out by orders of magnitude to show our local group of stars, then our galaxy, then our local group of galaxies, our supercluster of galaxies, and then the known universe projected on a 2D plane. I remember staring at it, being amazed, and trying to imagine the sheer scale of it all.

Nat Geo has since produced an updated poster called The Universe (which looks fantastic), but I found some people who are selling their copies of the old version that I had. I also had this poster of Earth on my bedroom wall.

My dad was, and still is, an astronomy buff, and those things rubbed off onto me. Even though I was only 4 years old at the time, I vividly remember him taking me outside in 1986 to look at Halley’s Comet through some binoculars. I remember him showing me the landmarks of the night sky – Orion’s Belt, the Southern Cross, Sirius and Canopus (the two brightest stars), Venus (the brightest object in the night sky other than the moon, distinguishable from the stars as an non-twinkling reddish point of light), and the band of haze that stretched across the sky, from horizon to horizon like a cloud: a side-on view of our Milky Way. We used to drive out into the paddocks, far away from the town light, and lie on the car bonnet with binoculars, or set up a telescope in the field, and he’d point out the Pleiades, the Jewel Box, and Jupiter and its moons. He was a pretty hardcore amateur astronomer too. Back in the 80s, without the help of a computer, he’d pore through charts looking for obscure stellar phenomena. He’d calculate where and when they would appear in the sky, and then go out and find them. It was definitely under his influence that I developed my interest in astronomy.

Continuing on with the theme of this post, here are Discover Magazine’s Top 10 Astronomy Photos of 2009.

  12:06am  •  Science & Technology  •   •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment