Do your head in on Sunday: some amazing astronomical numbers

by Matthew Cobb

I know that many of you will be just chilling (or, in my case, ‘just’ marking exams), but I thought you might appreciate these two bits of mind-boggling numbers. The video is from The Guardian and explains very simply the kind of distances astronomers have to deal with, and how you can try to get your head round it (Warning: the presenter, Pete Edwards of Durham University, says you can’t do it.)

The information in the final third of the video – dealing with the number of galaxies in the amazing Hubble Deep Field image – is apparently out of date. Edwards says (5:00) that there are about 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (10 to the 19th power – I think I have that right; I counted on my fingers) stars in the visible universe. Which is a lot.

But according to a Daily Galaxy link from the excellent Milky Way Scientists that popped up in my Facebook this morning, data from the Very Large Telescope (amazing imaginations, these astronomers) in Chile suggest that the number could be bigger. MUCH bigger.

For a start, the initial estimate given by the Daily Galaxy is 3,000 times bigger than Edwards:

Here’s how astronomers breakout  the visible universe within 14 billion light years:

Superclusters in the visible universe = 10 million

Galaxy groups in the visible universe = 25 billion

Large galaxies in the visible universe = 350 billion

Dwarf galaxies in the visible universe = 7 trillion

Stars in the visible universe = 30 billion trillion  (3×10²²)

A new study suggests that 90% of the most distant (and therefore oldest) galaxies in the universe could be unseen, hidden by clouds of dust. That would mean that – assuming the same number of stars in each galaxy, and that older galaxies don’t deviate from this rule – that the number of stars in the visible universe would be 270 billion trillion or 2.7 x 10 to the power of 24).

I’ve probably slipped up somewhere in the maths. But my head hurts (Edwards was right – you can’t do it) and I have to go back to marking essays about the similarities and differences shown by the three classes of the Chelicerata. That at least I can understand.

53 Comments

  1. Tyle
    Posted February 10, 2013 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Simply incredible. I have spent many hours trying to wrap my mind around the unfathomable size of the visible universe, but I cannot. Logarithms help a bit, but it’s still an abstraction.

    Also, keep in mind that as huge as these scales are, we are talking merely about how much stuff we can see, rather than how much stuff there actually is. Indeed, as far as we know the universe has no spatial boundary, only a temporal one.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 10, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Not a fact. The visible universe has a spatiotemporal boundary, but the inflationary standard universe has not necessarily a preceeding singularity and even if, we don’t know when that happened:

      “In other words, we not only don’t know whether there was a singularity at some point in the very distant, pre-inflation past, or whether inflation was truly eternal, we don’t even know whether inflation occurred for less than a yoctosecond or more than the present age of the (post-Big Bang) Universe!”

      - Ethan Siegel, the go-to astrophysicist in these matters.*

      [ http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2012/10/15/what-happened-before-the-big-bang/ ]

      * Except when it comes to environmental theory. =D He insists there is no dynamics, I think it has to be coupled to a dynamics so it’s fine: potato, potatoe.

      Last I heard, prominent particle physicists like Nima Arkani-Hamed and good populizers like Matt Strassler thinks highly of Split Supersymmetry chanses at LHC:

      “A rather different possibility, which has been around for a long time and which Arkani-Hamed likes (and I used to not be very fond of, but the Higgs mass measurement forces me to pay it more attention), is that supersymmetry does not entirely solve the hierarchy problem, but solves it part-way, with the remainder explained by a lucky accident or though a selection bias (such as the “anthropic” or “structure” principle, whereby the reason our part of the universe looks unusual is that (a) the universe is much more immense and diverse than we realize, (b) most regions are uninhabitable, and (c) only in rare regions with very unusual properties can there be anything like stars, planets, and evolution.) This is the notion of “split supersymmetry”,”.

      “(This kind of splitting arises very easily in theories of supersymmetry breaking, and in fact one typically has to work to avoid it.)”

      SSUSY would give us dark matter and fix the remaining particle physics problems, while being exactly the kind of multiverse template that Susskind writes of. (First having the SUSY particle sector freeze out after inflation, then independently the Standard Particle sector – in our universe.)

      “Fig. 2: Arkani-Hamed’s slide indicating the two possible implications of a Higgs with a mass of 125 GeV/c^2; either a complicated natural model emerges soon, or an unnatural but simple model may be the way to go. (Of course supersymmetry might simply not be LHC-accessible, but that was not the point of this slide.)”

      [ http://profmattstrassler.com/articles-and-posts/the-higgs-particle/taking-stock-of-the-higgs-jan-2013/5-supersymmetry/ ]

      So Lawrence Krauss’s spontaneous universe out of standard cosmology (zero energy, so spontaneous), which kills religious theistic gods, seems today most likely to be followed by Susskind’s law-setting universe out of particle theory in 10-20 years (dark matter has to come from _somewhere_), which kills theology’s deistic gods. No guarantees of course!

      • Tyle
        Posted February 10, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        Okay, good point – I should have said “as far as we know the universe has no spatial boundary, only *possibly* a temporal one”. At this point we don’t have a theory of quantum gravity, so we don’t really know.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted February 11, 2013 at 5:14 am | Permalink

          I agree of course, but I also disagree with the details. I’m really no fan of the usual meaning of “quantum gravity”, as I find it unsubstantiated.

          First, it is a fact that we _do_ have a theory of quantum gravity. One can quantize gravity in the low energy regime, same as other fields (as it then looks like). [I haste to add that I know nothing of quantized field theories, I'm quoting theorist Jacques Distler here.] It gives us gravitons, for example.

          The problem is that the theory breaks down at higher energies. But so does general relativity itself, as it is an effective theory! So why would we expect anything different, in fact wouldn’t that be unphysical?

          Second, I don’t see why we would expect yet_another_ theory of quantum gravity! Probes of spacetime, which is also a product of general relativity, down into the Planck regime by way of supernova photon timing shows that the expected quantum fluctuations don’t exist.

          Similarly primordial fluctuations, which imprints the CMB and gives us supercluster mass concentrations, is (as far as I know) a product of the inflaton field and not both inflaton field and spacetime geometry.

          I think this can be summed up as that it is unclear to me if we can say that gravity exists after GR breaks down. We expect spacetime breaks down, and since gravity is a metric effect, it should go too. Whatever physics is relevant then, it needs to be quantized of course. Maybe we are arguing potato, potatoe here.

          But the point would be that at that time, the game is entirely changed. The reason to expect singularities, which seems evocative in gravity (black holes, breakdown of GR, blueshift of light going back in time in an inflaton field) is gone.

          Reversely, if I understand Susskind correctly, there need to be no GR breakdown in inflation. Everything relevant can be made to work out anyway. You can even speculate in a Susskind Censorship, preventing singularities. =D

      • Tyle
        Posted February 10, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

        Also, nobody denies that SUSY is nice theoretically, and I would consider it a major triumph if we found it, but note that much of the parameter space has been ruled out at LHC. In particular, MSSM looks unlikely now.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted February 11, 2013 at 4:35 am | Permalink

          You should go and argue with Strassler, he really doesn’t think much of bayesian methods as applied on theories. In any case, here is his take on SUSY @ LHC (which he was involved in until recently, I believe):

          “But please, don’t misinterpret what I’m saying (or my colleagues) as suggesting that the LHC’s data has had no impact on the list of possible variants of supersymmetry! Far from it! Many variants are excluded, and many popular (but not necessarily more likely) subclasses of variants of supersymmetry have been pushed into regions that many would consider corners. The only statement in Figure 1 is that the new LHCb measurement didn’t make these corners smaller. But to see how things have changed since before the LHC began, look at Figure 2, which shows how the LHC as a whole — all the measurements from LHCb, ATLAS and CMS taken together — have affected the CMSSM and NUMH1 since 2009.”

          “But clearly there are plenty of variants within the NUHM1 that remain viable. And the NUHM1 is not representative of the full range of possibilities within the MSSM, so even if the NUHM1 were excluded, we’d still have a long way to go to exclude the MSSM, much less all of TeV-scale supersymmetry. In short, it’s neither all nor nothing. Yes, a lot of progress has been made; LHC data (and data from other sources) have ruled out a lot of variants of TeV-scale supersymmetry. But no, we’re not yet close to ruling out the full range of variants.” [ http://profmattstrassler.com/2012/11/21/details-behind-last-weeks-supersymmetrystory/ ]

  2. gravityfly
    Posted February 10, 2013 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Good stuff. Thanks for sharing, Matthew. Loved it!

  3. beanfeast
    Posted February 10, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    You talk about the breakout of the visible universe within 14 billion light years. Isn’t the visible universe substantially larger than 14 billion light years because of the expansion of the universe accounted for by Hubble’s constant?

    Similarly in the video they seem to make the same mistake, talking about the universe stretching out 13 billion light years from the Earth.

    I thought I was starting to get to grips with the way this stuff worked, but then I come across two statements that seem to suggest my grasp is even more tenuous than I thought it was. Perhaps someone can clarify this for me.

  4. gbjames
    Posted February 10, 2013 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Great. One of the most important consequences of a good education is that it gives one just a taste for the enormity of time. Most of us go through life thinking of events only 100 years ago as being in the ignorable past. Examples like this are just great.

  5. Ross Burnett
    Posted February 10, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    It’s amazing that God did all that just for little ol’ us. Literally incredible.

    I loved the thought that a viewer in Andromeda looking at earth right now would be witnessing the dawn of humans.

    • Posted February 10, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      Well…sorta.

      No matter how super-awesome your telescope, you’re not going to be resolving proto-humans at a distance of a couple million lightyears. You could perhaps resolve the Sun as a point of light, but I doubt it’s even theoretically possible to resolve planets at that distance or even use other planet-finding techniques. And I don’t mean because you’d need such a massive telescope, but rather because I’m pretty sure that’s beyond the Shannon limits of communication (though I certainly haven’t run the numbers). Communication at such distance would require literally stellar-scale energies…and mere passive observation? I really doubt it.

      But, if you ignore the physical limits, then, yes, your Star Trek observer would be seeing Earth as it was about 2.5 MYA, when H. habilis and the australopithecines were just starting to figure out toolmaking. Modern humans were still a couple million years away, though.

      I was also a bit disturbed by the visual representation of parallax…they showed the geometry all worng. In the example with the thumb in front of the castle, they moved the thumb when they should have moved the camera. In the orbital diagram, they showed both the Earth and the star moving, when it’s only the Earth that moves.

      There were a couple other things I found a bit grating, but nothing quite so egregious as the parallax portrayal. Still, I’d have expected better of the Beeb….

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Ross Burnett
        Posted February 10, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

        Thanks.

        And we ourselves represent some astronomically large numbers: 300 trillion cells (feeling like 350 myself, after my weigh-in). The number of bacteria on and in us is 10x that, 1-3% of our body weight, which, though crucial to our health, is kinda gross.

        The number of atoms in us is around 7 followed by 27 zeros, the majority of which, hydrogen, having had to wait for us since The Beginning. No wonder I’m feeling so old lately.

      • Ougaseon
        Posted February 10, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        Their illustration of parallax is completely correct. It simply depends on whether you’re ‘fixating’ the thumb or the background (try it!). If you fixate your thumb,the background appears to move. If you fixate the background, the thumb appears to move. The selection of what you fixate is entirely arbitrary, and the geometry is the same in either case. Since astronomers often refer to ‘the fixed stars’, it was entirely appropriate to show the thumb moving relative to the stable background.

        Similarly, in their illustration of the earth they were correctly showing that the apparent position of a near star moves relative the ‘fixed stars’ that are farther away. They were deliberately trying to show that a near star [i]appears[/i] to move against the background. Really the only reason we conclude that the near star is [i]actually[/i] fixed at the intersection of the lines they drew is because that’s the best explanation of how it could be that the star is in a different part of the sky at different times of the year.

        • Ougaseon
          Posted February 10, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

          Bleh, I gotta keep straight which boards use bbcode and which use html. The [i]xxxx[/i] should be italicized. My kingdom for an edit button!

        • Posted February 10, 2013 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

          The parallax that gives us a three-dimensional view of a thumb held at arm’s length comes from two different perspectives of a stationary thumb against a stationery background. You gauge the distance to your thumb not by moving your thumb whilst keeping one eye closed and fixed, but by using two eyes spaced differently. You would simulate this with a single eye or camera by moving the eye / camera and keeping the thumb and background fixed. A line draw between a distant point and your thumb remains the same; what’s happening is that one eye is lined up with your thumb and said point, but the other eye isn’t.

          Stellar parallax is exactly the same. The nearby star remains fixed in its position (stellar motion is negligible in comparison) and the background stars also remain fixed. What actually moves is the Earth, from one side of its orbit to the other. Once again, the near star and some distant star remain lined up with each other, but the Earth moves in with and out from that same line.

          In both their examples, they showed the object in the middle moving, which most emphatically is not what happens.

          Cheers,

          b&

      • Posted February 10, 2013 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

        So does this mean the NASA/Yoko “Across the Universe” transmission was only a publicity stunt?

        I’m going to crawl off somewhere and have a good cry now.

  6. hhanche
    Posted February 10, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    The numbers astronomers come up with are puny little things. Even the number of atoms in the visible universe is only thought to be about 10 to the 80th power or so. If you want to see big numbers, go look at John Baez’s #bigness series on google plus. You may learn that the biggest prime number currently known has 17,425,170 digits. But even that is tiny compared to Graham’s number, which may be the biggest number ever used in a mathematical proof. Even explaining what the number is is going to take too much room for a comment in a blog like this! Go look it up.

    (My apologies if this appears twice. I wasn’t logged in at first, so I did log in when requested. I thought my comment would be posted as a result, but it appeared not to be.)

  7. Posted February 10, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    This is the point you say these are really big numbers and stop there!

  8. travisrm89
    Posted February 10, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Is the Hermione Granger the narrator? :)

  9. Posted February 10, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Makes a good argument for atheism.

    In a huge observable universe, we have no evidence that intelligent life exists anywhere else. (At best, we know that there are a few planets where life per se could exist.)

    So the theistic idea that the point of the universe is intelligent life begins to look very implausible.

    • gbjames
      Posted February 10, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      I’m not sure that reasoning holds. In this huge observable universe, we have very poor ability to detect life elsewhere at all, whether intelligent or not. So the absence of evidence at this point tells us very little.

      Personally I’m convinced, on the basis of gut probability alone, that since the numbers are so huge, it is almost certain that complex chemistry has happened elsewhere in the universe too. We may never detect it.

      Either way, it is not a case for deities of any sort.

      • Posted February 10, 2013 at 9:37 am | Permalink

        In addition, even if we’re the only intelligent life in the universe as of right now, we still don’t know what the future may hold. One could easily argue that, another billion years from now, humans (or, rather, our descendants) will be the dominant force in the Local Group, shaping entire galaxies to our whims. At that point, arguing that we are insignificant in the big scheme of things would not be so convincing.

        Theism falls down on so many counts, not the least of which is that it’s so plainly nothing more than childishly mistraking obvious faery tales for actual reality. But, especially considering all the popular religious imagery of a tiny seed growing into a towering tree, I do not think that our relative smallness in proportion to the rest of the universe is especially convincing to theists.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted February 10, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

          Ben Goren,

          Nevertheless, at that point, for most of the universe’s history, intelligent life would have been nonexistent or very limited, and the proportion of the universe that is naturally hospitable to intelligent life would remain extremely small. As I suggested in my reply to gbjames, I think it’s plausible that: for any X and Y, if Y is extremely inhospitable to X, then probably, Y was not created or designed for the purpose of X.

          • Posted February 10, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

            Again, you’re still on very thin ground when you’re trying to second-guess purpose based upon waste percentages. If you were to compare the amount of waste that goes into food production, including how much our bodies themselves waste, you might come to a similar conclusion, that the purpose of food production has nothing to do with human consumption. Instead, you’d conclude that it has to do with making agricultural waste and a not insignificant amount of shit.

            “Purpose” can only be reliably inferred by communication with the intelligence in question.

            And, indeed, by attempting to divine purpose (or lack thereof), you’re already at least hypothetically granting the existence of said intelligence for the sake of argument, and your argument against is only that said intelligence must be thrifty and wouldn’t be wasteful. Look at how much waste artists produce when creating a single work of art and you’ll understand why such arguments aren’t particularly persuasive.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Sastra
              Posted February 10, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

              Food producers and artists are forced to work with the materials and physical laws they have, however. God would presumably have been under no such constraints.

              If we knew that farmers were able to directly wish delectable foods onto everyone’s plates with no trouble or exertion whatsoever, then the waste would be puzzling because the process is puzzling. The reason the atheist Argument from Scale has traction is due to God having the power of psychokenesis AND the ability to set up the process any way He wants.

              God wants waste. That makes no sense.

              • Posted February 10, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

                You’re still assuming the artist in question has a particular aesthetic that values parsimony, and that’s just not an assumption that can be made without interviewing said artist.

                Never mind the sculptor who leaves behind a mountain of rubble to create a figurine; what of the painter who, say, uses an entire two-foot-by-three-foot canvas just to paint a ten-gun man-o’-war an inch tall on an empty sea? And if said painting is really naught but a portrait of a certain invisible figure on said ship?

                That’s not an hypothetical, by the way. I’ve been working with an artist this past week on making giclée prints of exactly that painting.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Sastra
                Posted February 10, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

                If the artist makes the waste on purpose, then it is not waste: it’s part of the artwork. The painting you describe is not just a painting of a ship. And we figure out the artist’s intent by considering the entire canvas.

                But we can’t do that with God — not if the teeny tiny ship IS supposed to be the entire point and focus and the rest irrelevant. Theists think they have had an interview with the artist. It’s the Bible or some other human-centric revelation.

              • Posted February 10, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

                But don’t you see? That’s exactly what theists claim: that humanity is all that matters, that all this was created just for us. And, just as the artist sets the big ship as a tiny part of the big canvas for artistic effect, theists claim that their gods did the same with humanity — we are the tiny ship adrift on the vast sea. We are the most important thing in the universe; all this was created just for us, or for the glorification of their gods, or whatever. That it’s all larger than life is exactly the artistic purpose, and the bigger the better, and the greater the disparity between the most important part of it, the tiny jewel as opposed to the elaborate setting…well, that’s just supposed to make the tiny jewel that much more important.

                Is it all self-aggrandizing hubristic narcissistic sociopathic bullshit? No doubt. But that part of it is consistent with the theists’s claims.

                It’s only when you move away from the art criticism to actually examining the substance that you can nail them. Saying their gods have bad taste in art isn’t going to convince them when their taste in art runs parallel to that of the claimed tastes for the gods. But pointing out that their gods are characters from a really bad faery tale?

                b&

      • Posted February 10, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        gbjames,

        My suggestion is that a universe that is so inhospitable to intelligent life is probably not a universe that was created for the purpose of harboring intelligent life. For any X and Y, if Y is extremely inhospitable to X, then probably, Y was not created for the purpose of X–that seems to me to be a pretty plausible principle.

        I agree that there probably is life somewhere else, but that doesn’t change our observation of the proportion of the universe that could and does hold intelligent life.

        • gbjames
          Posted February 10, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

          I don’t think many here would disagree with that view. We do know that the universe is mostly inhospitable. And eventually it will be completely so, given eventual heat death.

  10. marycanada FCD
    Posted February 10, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Phenomenal mind-blowing stuff. It does hurt when I tried to wrap my head around those numbers. Great video.

  11. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted February 10, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    The old estimate I know of is ~ 10^11 large galaxies. Which at the Milky Way size of ~ 10^11 stars yield ~ 10^22 stars.

    Recently it has been cited as 100 – 200*10^9 galaxies, and the other week I read that there could be ~ 200*10^9 galaxies, yielding ~ 2*10^23 stars. Herschel’s results would be a huge (and diversified!) improvement on that.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 10, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      I meant 2*10^22 stars, of course. :-/

  12. Kevin Anthoney
    Posted February 10, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    How many fingers have you got? That’s 10^22.

    • Notagod
      Posted February 10, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      Some of them fingers may have been hidden within the stacks of exams.

      Regardless I thought Matthew’s counting technique was very entertaining.

  13. Sastra
    Posted February 10, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    “It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil — which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.” — Richard Feynman

    In looking up this quote I came across a Christian site which only sets Feynman’s objection up to knock it down. In my opinion, it doesn’t do a very good job.

    According to the apologists, the universe is NOT “too big for the drama” because the human drama is just that significant. We feel that this is so, don’t we?

    Plus, scientists use faith. Neener neener, gotcha right back.

    When I consider the size and scope of the universe, it is hard for me to wrap my mind around how shallow and egocentric you’d have to be to think that God must have created so much space and so many stars because that way we’re much more impressed.

  14. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted February 10, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    A new study suggests that 90% of the most distant (and therefore oldest) galaxies in the [visible] universe could be unseen, hidden by clouds of dust.

    I’m thinking we need a better term than “the visible universe” to describe our local Hubble volume.

    • darrelle
      Posted February 10, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      I think visible can still work. Not visible perhaps to naked Mark I eyeballs, but visible to our technological extensions of our senses. Or even just visible “in principle.”

      “The detectable universe?” I don’t know, I thing I like “the visible universe” better.

      • Tyle
        Posted February 10, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        Me too. And don’t worry, it’s not changing any time soon. :) Physicists are not very innovative with terminology – think of potential vs. potential energy, current vs. electron flow, etc. Lots of bad terms are inherited, and simply kept.

      • Posted February 10, 2013 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

        Observable universe.

        • barael
          Posted February 11, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

          I don’t much fancy “observable universe” either, since if you were living 20 bly away some direction or another, it would be a different volume.

          This is by the way one thing I haven’t quite gotten yet; that you should be able to repeat this process (get a new Hubble volume by translating some huge distance to any direction) infinitely; imposing any limit would seem to indicate a preferred reference frame / point of origin for the Big Bang (which is held to be wrong).

          However what follows is that the Universe has expanded into an infinite volume in a finite time; in fact in as small time as you care to imagine since this would have to be the case in (all) earlier time as well. The fact that each Hubble volume were smaller doesn’t change the fact that you should be able to obtain an infinite amount of them.

          On the other hand it certainly makes sense that if the universe is spatially infinite, it has always been so (otherwise it would’ve needed to transition from finite to infinite at some point). This is however somewhat hard to harmonize with the popular idea of the universe starting very small and expanding into something larger; at best it describes our Hubble volume.

          • Posted February 11, 2013 at 9:14 am | Permalink

            “… if you were living 20 bly away some direction or another, it would be a different volume.”

            So? This term refers to *our* observable universe.

            “imposing any limit would seem to indicate a preferred reference frame / point of origin for the Big Bang”

            No, it is simply our reference frame because, you know, this is where we are. From earth, the observable universe extends 46.5 billion light years. That’s all.

  15. Mark Joseph
    Posted February 10, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Can’t believe I’m the first one to put up this Douglas Adams quote in response to this video: “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

    I was somewhat relieved to find out that the estimates for the number of galaxies and for the number of stars in a galaxy (each about 10^11) are about the same as what I originally learned. That sure isn’t the case with the number of moons each planet in the solar system has, or, for that matter, the number of the planets themselves!

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted February 11, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      The rest of us H2G2 fans had bets on to see who would crack first – you lose!

  16. Cremnomaniac
    Posted February 10, 2013 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    I love this stuff. I spent my morning at the coffee shop reading Lawrence Krauss’s “A Universe from Nothing”.

    I just read the first 4 chapters covering much of the discoveries related to determining the size of the universe and its origins. He put the number at about 100 billion galaxies n the visible universe. Then try to wrap your head around the idea of a curved universe.

  17. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted February 11, 2013 at 2:33 am | Permalink

    data from the Very Large Telescope (amazing imaginations, these astronomers)

    Matthew, you are so going to love the (proposed) ELT ¹
    and/ or OLT ² . If they ever get funded or built.
    ¹ ELT – Extremely Large Telescope
    ² OLT – Overwhelmingly Large Telescope.
    In the worlds of Quint (? – the boat-man in Jaws), “you gotta get yourself a bigger superlative!”

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 11, 2013 at 2:35 am | Permalink

      Hmmm, I thought WP swallowed the superscript-1 and -2. Meh.

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted February 11, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        All that time you wasted last week!

        What will they do after the OLT? ULT (Unbelievably Large Telescope)? M-BLT (mind-Boggling Large Telescope) or is that a mega bacon lettuce & tomato? Is there no end to this? (yes, there is).

  18. jiten
    Posted February 11, 2013 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    “The universe is big, really, really big.” And the atom is small, really, really small.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 11, 2013 at 5:22 am | Permalink

      “And we are average, really, really average.”

      - Atheism

  19. HaggisForBrains
    Posted February 11, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    OK, very nippy. I find it hard enough coping with Eric Idle’sGalaxy Song.

  20. Fastlane
    Posted February 11, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    So…Douglas Adams had it right, then? ;)


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  1. [...] says we cannot get our heads around how big the universe is. Matthew Cobb at Why Evolution is True corrects his numbers, which are out of date: Here’s how astronomers breakout the visible universe [...]

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