Join 3,514 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is.
August 11, 2009 10:23 PM   Subscribe

Space is really big. A perspective on the Earth and Moon from the view of a pixel.
posted by loquacious (50 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Quite humbling. The Alan Alda video towards the end even more so. Now think about how every atom and molecule and cell in our body is really mostly empty, just one tiny proton surrounded by a cloud of even tinier electrons, kept distinct from one another by magnetic and subatomic repulsion.

You might think it's a long way from your hous to the chemist, but that's just peanuts in space.
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:35 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's not so far. I met a guy once who went there, and he said that he thinks we ought to go a lot farther than that.
posted by The World Famous at 10:37 PM on August 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


I thought this was going to involve a conical, onyx bathtub and some white sand.
posted by everichon at 10:45 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wonder how big the ball would be if we compressed every particle in the universe into a little ball, with the exception of matter and antimatter annihilation.
posted by kldickson at 10:53 PM on August 11, 2009


Jon_Evil, we aren't completely hydrogen.
posted by kldickson at 10:54 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's kinda trippy to stare at this image and then think about what the guys in the Apollo space program did. They went all the way over there, no really. They went that far away from the nearest McDonald's.

HOLY SHIT
Man Walks On Fucking Moon

Neil Armstrong's Historic First Words On Moon: 'Holy Living Fuck'
posted by Ratio at 10:56 PM on August 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


...I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space
posted by hypersloth at 10:56 PM on August 11, 2009


sorry, kidickson, you're right. should read "one tiny clump of protons"
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:57 PM on August 11, 2009


arrgghh, saw the small print as I hit submit.
posted by hypersloth at 10:57 PM on August 11, 2009


As immense as space is, you can be certain that Starbucks is plotting a way to have outlets on every planet.
posted by bwg at 10:59 PM on August 11, 2009


Here's a side of Powers of 10 and various well known Stars and Planets compared by size.
posted by loquacious at 11:00 PM on August 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I wonder how big the ball would be if we compressed every particle in the universe into a little ball, with the exception of matter and antimatter annihilation.

I am not a physicist - but "big" and "small" would tend to lose some meaning as "normal" physics breaks down as they tend to do around singularities or a gnab gib. I'm not entirely personally so sure about the Big Bang theory or cyclical model of the universe. There's stuff like superposition with particles that happens under the extremes you propose, and as noted up thread most of the tangible stuff floating in space (you, me, the moon, the earth, diamonds and rocks) is empty space anyway.

The closest dimensionally stable object that you are seeking is a Neutron Star, which if you were to be able to safely land on it - a truly impressive feat - you'd likely immediately be crushed into puddle of goo approximately 1 atom thick from the immense force gravity due to the incredible mass of the neutron star. If you simply fell to the surface even the atoms would get smashed, but likely not before the gravity gradient stretched you and your ship like taffy. The general size of neutron stars is described in the link. They're a particular size because if they got much larger or more massive it would become a black hole.

A black hole is even worse. Avoid. It'll really ruin your day. gnab gibs aren't so bad, but the hangovers (and bar tabs) are incredible.
posted by loquacious at 11:28 PM on August 11, 2009


space is deep and keeps getting deeper. I find this reassuring.
posted by philip-random at 11:49 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I willing on-wanted to hug everyone in this thread for the subtle (and not-so-subtle) quotes and references.
posted by cheaily at 11:55 PM on August 11, 2009


Celestia is great for getting a sense of how small the planets, stars, etc., really are. You start zooming around the solar system only to get lost a few moments later, planets as big as Jupiter being impossible to see from any sort of distance without help from the program. You realise that the interesting (to us!) things in the universe are few and far between, which makes the program more dull to use but which gives you a great sense of what the universe is actually like.
posted by chorltonmeateater at 12:08 AM on August 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


cool links! (i never knew you could see more than 1/2 of a neutron star from one side...makes sense, tho, considering it's practically a nucleus the size of manhattan) i love this proportion/relationship stuff...it's really the only way to get a handle on the scales involved in astronomy...

that stars and planets video is awesome, loquacious...have you seen this picture of every known body in the solar system over 200 miles in diameter? (also to scale)

i love cracking out the trig to figure some of these things out...did you know that if you could see saturn through the haze while standing on the surface of titan, the full expanse of the rings would take up 22 and 1/2 degrees of the sky. (!) to put that in perspective, here on earth, the moon and the sun each take up about 1/2 a degree...you can cover them up with your pinkie finger held at arms length. (try it!) ...from the moon the earth takes up about 2 degrees. also, i forget what the degrees are, but from geosynchronous orbit (about 10,400 miles up, where the communications satellites hang out, and the location that the farpoint station on the hopefully-soon-to-be-built-space-elevator would be) the earth appears to be the same size as a dinner plate held at arms length.

also, stars a like ping-pong balls in major cities (one in new york, one in los angeles...), but galaxies are like dinner plates flying around in a room...they collide a lot, but their stars rarely do...
posted by sexyrobot at 12:20 AM on August 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


Cool. Just to pick a few really good previouslies, here, here, and here were pretty good at this sort of thing too.
posted by GeckoDundee at 12:21 AM on August 12, 2009


have you seen this picture of every known body in the solar system over 200 miles in diameter? (also to scale)

According to that one, our solar system is a string of pearls.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:53 AM on August 12, 2009


hopefully-soon-to-be-built-space-elevator

Not complaining about your nice comment, however it's my duty as a nerd to issue the following proclamation:

HEY SPACE FANS!

Forget the space elevator. It's slow, it's unstable and it still requires unobtanium to build it and too much energy to climb up and down it.

There's a new shiny launch toy. It would actually work. It's fast, with quick turnaround times between launches and landings. It's energy efficient - the energy of landings can be recaptured for launches. We can probably build it now with existing technology - no unobtanium required! If it breaks or otherwise falls down it won't wrap a ten thousand mile long flaming whip of burning carbon nanotubes around the equator, and you don't have to solve that tricky first bit of how to dangle the first cable from your Lagrange parking orbit to the base station on earth.

It's called the Lofstrom launch loop. Spread the word.

Save the space elevator for interplanetary sling-shot launches, or even better diamond space towers and an orbital ring as in Arthur C. Clark's 3001.
posted by loquacious at 1:00 AM on August 12, 2009 [19 favorites]


"I wonder how big the ball would be if we compressed every particle in the universe into a little ball, with the exception of matter and antimatter annihilation."
Not the same thing at all, but you can fit every star in the observable universe into a sphere only a few lightyears across.
posted by edd at 1:50 AM on August 12, 2009


Nice link. Really makes me think about how insignificant we are in the whole scheme of things. When I think about how insignificant I am personally in the Earth-scaled scheme of things and extrapolate that out to the universe, it gives me a strange sense of calm knowing that, no matter how badly I fuck up, it doesn't really matter.
posted by dg at 2:55 AM on August 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


hm. did not know about launch loops.
buy me one.
posted by sexyrobot at 3:08 AM on August 12, 2009


Capturing the moon transiting the earth: "So your buddy is in one end zone of a football field, holding out a stiff thumbs-up, spinning, and moving his arm up and down. You are in the other end zone and want to take a picture where his thumb covers one of his pupils. Both of you are running."
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 5:27 AM on August 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


You know, that photo actualy seems to have the opposite effect on me. It makes me think, "gee, they fit in the same photo, and look how big they both still are. They are much closer together than I thought."
posted by Pollomacho at 5:31 AM on August 12, 2009


Man, I miss Carl Sagan.
posted by nax at 5:55 AM on August 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I feel small now....
posted by Mastercheddaar at 5:57 AM on August 12, 2009


Ditto, nax...ditto.

(A buddy of mine at NASA just named his first kid "Sagan." Nerdy, but I approve...)
posted by zap rowsdower at 6:00 AM on August 12, 2009


That picture inspired a feeling of urgency in me and I found myself thinking, "I must go into space and explore, right now."
posted by anniecat at 6:21 AM on August 12, 2009


This whole concept has nearly put me off my Pears Gallumbits.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:35 AM on August 12, 2009


I downloaded the 640*480 image, and the moon doesn't seem all that far away, though I am in Australia.
posted by mattoxic at 6:58 AM on August 12, 2009


It's a great big universe, and we're all really puny. We're just tiny little specks, about the size of Mickey Rooney.
posted by cerebus19 at 6:59 AM on August 12, 2009


What is interesting is that in terms of fuel consumed by a spacecraft, space is pretty compact. This visualization is pretty good at showing the changes in velocity needed to get to popular destinations in the solar system. Note that if you use aerobraking, Mars is not that much further than the Moon in terms of fuel required to land.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:16 AM on August 12, 2009


Let me take a minute to recommend For All Mankind which has been beautifully restored in high definition by the elves at Criterion collection. Here's an amazing EVA scene. I firmly believe that the soundtrack by Brian Eno is some sort of cosmic radiation and if you're floating around in space all you have to do is turn on the radio and that's what you'll hear.

One of the most striking points the documentary really pounds in is the emptiness in space. Going to the moon there are no landmarks, there are no stars, there is just this great empty vastness and you're in this little metal spaceship which you're entirely dependent on for your most basic needs. I can't imagine how surreal and frightening that must be, floating through a motionless void for days at a time.
posted by geoff. at 7:16 AM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know, that photo actualy seems to have the opposite effect on me. It makes me think, "gee, they fit in the same photo, and look how big they both still are. They are much closer together than I thought."

Yeah, had the same effect on me, especially together with the fly-to-australia-twenty-times comparison. I was raised on BILLIONS AND BILLIONS and I've gotten used to thinking of astronomical distances as incomprehensibly huge. It's sort of surreal running across ways of making them comprehensible.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:21 AM on August 12, 2009


As awesome as space is, this is exactly why I never wanted to be an astronaut. I think I would panic being so very far away from other humans and a breathable atmosphere. Driving through rural Kansas or looking out at the ocean provides about as much bogglement as my mind can handle.

I'm reminded of one of my favorite Sesame Street songs, I Don't Want to Live on the Moon.

Over the weekend, I heard an episode of Car Talk where one of the guys joked that old cars' mileage should be measured using trips to the moon, e.g. a car with 200,000 miles on the odometer would be ".8 lunar." I'm not sure which is more impressive: the idea of driving for 11 years with no breaks on a one-way road trip to the moon, or that there are cars out there that could just barely drive the distance, if there were enough gas stations and mechanics along the way.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:42 AM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Someone did this for the Solar System
posted by vacapinta at 7:47 AM on August 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Space is big. Really big. I mean, you just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. You may think it's a long way down the street to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space! Listen!"


42
posted by alphathefish at 8:19 AM on August 12, 2009


I'm often sad that I will never get a chance to explore other planets before I die. I know great technological achievements can happen almost overnight, but things as just *so far away* that even FTL is not fast enough.

I know it's stupid, but it makes me really, genuinely sad. I feel like I was born a few thousand years too early some days.

So then, I go play Star Control 2 and search for rainbow worlds. It helps, a little.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:20 AM on August 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Wow, I was just having the bitchiest, whiniest, complainingest day until I saw this and remembered, oh yeah, I'm inconsequential!
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:28 AM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


In other words, we're stuck here. On the increasingly crowded, hot and smelly blue marble of ours. Bummer.
posted by tommasz at 9:21 AM on August 12, 2009


But Mooooooooooom, Kyle has a Lofstrom launch loop! Pleeeeeeease!

The feelinging of smallness that things like this inevitably brings always reminds me of Kierkegaard's Knight of Infinite Resignation from Fear and Trembling. While I don't share K.'s religious convictions, the three levels that he describes have always resonated with me, though I think they are easily over-simplified unless you really dig into the text and realize that he isn't really setting up three distinct categories.

Anyway, I thought I'd share. Fear and Trembling is really a lovely book, either if you're Christian, or if you can get past the fact that it's written through the lens of Christianity.
posted by nosila at 9:24 AM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Heh. "Feelinging brings." That's right, right?
posted by nosila at 9:26 AM on August 12, 2009


I was raised on BILLIONS AND BILLIONS and I've gotten used to thinking of astronomical distances as incomprehensibly huge.

Well, to be fair, we're not really talking about astronomical distances, here. If you want to get an idea of how far it is from our Solar System to Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, go out into a field and drop an orange on the ground. This represents the sun. Now walk 1400 miles. Drop a raisin on the ground. This represents Proxima Centauri. (Source)
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:47 AM on August 12, 2009


How's that Alcubierre drive coming?
posted by kldickson at 10:29 AM on August 12, 2009


Going to the moon there are no landmarks, there are no stars, there is just this great empty vastness and you're in this little metal spaceship

i'm pretty sure the stars don't go out just because you're going to the moon...how would you navigate?
posted by sexyrobot at 10:58 AM on August 12, 2009


Look at the pictures linked in the post, then consider the following: the diameter of the sun is about 3.5 times the distance between the earth and the moon.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:48 PM on August 12, 2009


You want big, motherfuckers?

VY Canis Majoris's diameter is 2000 times the diameter of the sun.
posted by kldickson at 1:21 PM on August 12, 2009


"Wow, I was just having the bitchiest, whiniest, complainingest day until I saw this and remembered, oh yeah, I'm inconsequential!"

In the physical sense, maybe.
Once you start considering the distance you realize how much we need each other and how truly important each person is and how truly close we are to each other in contrast to the vast and endless void that goes on and on and on in darkness and cold.
Just something to think about on the commute home.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:35 PM on August 12, 2009


So let's recap:

Diameter of the Earth: 12756.2 km / 7926.41 miles
Distance between Earth and Moon: 382686 km / 237790.056 miles
Diameter of the Sun: 1339401 km / 832265.196 miles
Diameter of VY Canis Majoris: 2678802000 km / 1664530390 miles

Earth's diameter is approximately 1/200000 that of VY Canis Majoris.
posted by kldickson at 1:35 PM on August 12, 2009


Earth's diameter is approximately 1/200000 that of VY Canis Majoris.

I guess I should stop calling the Earth "Big Dog" whenever I see it in social situations. I feel like a bit of a jerk now.
posted by The World Famous at 2:15 PM on August 12, 2009


« Older Peter Guo was held by Chinese police for 16 days, ...  |  "Mountain chickens have very p... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments