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10 May 2010

blown away by scale

i am currently located in bellaire, ohio, TheUnitedStates, earth, TheSol system, TheOrionArm, TheMilkyWay, TheLocalGroup, TheVirgoSupercluster, TheKnownUniverse. each of these descriptions is EASILY several orders of magnitude larger than the previous one in the list. that is, ohio is at least 10 times larger than bellaire; TheUnitedStates is at least 10 times larger than ohio; etc. that is just mind-boggling considering as things get bigger, 10x bigger than that is just so insanely bigger that thinking of the next step makes brains cell runs for cover.

say, for example, you place a grain of sand on the very center of the 50-yard line on a football field. this grain of sand represents earth. a scaled sun would be a bit larger than a softball, just about the size of the 50-yard line stripe itself. that may not seem like a huge difference, but in actuality, you can fit about ONE MILLION earths in the sun (and thus approximately 1,000,000 grains of sand in this softball). now here's the insanity of scale... the largest known star in the universe is YZ Canis Majoris. can you take a guess how big it would be? just take a guess, would it fit between the 40-yard lines? maybe, the 20-yard lines? would it be goal line to goal line? think about it and take a guess...

well, if you gave up on guessing, i'll tell ya. granted these are rough calculations, but you'd have to add a football field to both sides of the one we are standing on and (neglecting endzones) YZ Canis Majoris would reach to the FAR 5 yard line on these extra fields. we think of our earth as big. we think of our sun as big. while it takes 8 minutes for our suns light to travel to use from the earth (just to reiterate, going the speed of light), it takes about 8 HOURS for light to cross from one side of YZ Canis Majoris to the other. just for shits and giggles and maybe strokes for people who have a hard time with big numbers. the number of earths that would fit in this big guy... almost 10,000,000,000,000,000. that's ten quadrillion earths in just one star.

that's about as far as i'm going to take the numbers for now, but think briefly... there are BILLIONS of stars each found in BILLIONS of galaxies each found in what might be millions of super-clusters. the scale is just awe striking and humbling. and with that, i need a break or a beer... or both.

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Anonymous jeffk said...

Any discussion of orders of magnitude makes me happy. Have you read Bryson's "A short history of nearly everything"? He does a nice, if sometimes laborious, job with oom comparisons like yours.

2:05 PM, May 12, 2010  
Blogger Jared said...

Don't forget about deep time when discussing scale. For instance, the earth has been around for about 4.5 billion years. The current iteration of the known universe has been around for about 13.7 billion years. Modern humans have only been around for about 60,000 years (I'm probably being a little generous in m definition of modern). That means the entirety of human existence occupies only roughly the last 1/1000th of the history of the earth.

If the 4.5 billion year history of the earth is compressed into a 24-hour day, "modern" humans are only around for about the last second of the day.

10:07 PM, May 15, 2010  
Blogger Jared said...

oh, and how's your mom?

10:08 PM, May 15, 2010  

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