Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pale Blue Dot


When I was in elementary school, science teachers used the idiom "a speck in the universe" to describe planet Earth, trying to give us an idea of the vastness of space.

I don't often ponder the vastness of space, because really it's just vastly too vasting VAST. Like, raging vastocity. I know our human brains, having no realistic comparison, cannot possibly intellectualize the vastness, and here's why:

I thought I had it all figured out in 2nd grade when I memorized the order of the planets, as displayed by a poster in our classroom. It looked so simple, and the way people talked about space travel back then -- how everything would soon be "space age" and Star Trekian, well, I imagined we'd all be vacationing to Saturn by the time I was in high school.

Around 9th grade, I read a book that said solar system illustrations or general "depictions" are complete nonsense. You can't scale to size on a poster, or even a large wall.

Even if you shrank a drawing of Earth to the size of the average aspirin pill, Jupiter would be a thousand feet away. Pluto would be in the next town over. And that's just "space in between" objects, to say nothing of the vastness of the objects themselves!

Pale Blue Dot
Comparatively speaking, right around the time this video shows the largest known star in comparison to Earth, our beloved planet is ONE PIXEL. In the immortal words of the great Carl Sagan, pale blue dot.

In the digital age, I think it speaks more to our mentality to be a "pixel" now instead of a "speck". And, I laughed aloud at the extra little slap-in-the-face at the very end... CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE... hint: it isn't you.



lisleman said...

that's good clip. I knew Jupiter was vastly larger than earth and that fact became clear when that comet slammed into Jupiter many years ago. What was new to me is the variety of star sizes. I imagine the event horizon of a black hole might be even larger.

PillowNaut said...

I remember that comet, it was the Shoemaker-Levy... and that size comparison was definitely mind-blowing. Then we found stars so massive, it made OUR SUN look like a tiny comet. Wild.

Reminds me of that passage by Douglas Adams in the Hitchhiker series where he discusses an invading alien force, but due to a size contrast, the entire fleet, upon arrival, was swallowed by a dog ;)

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