Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Specks in the sky

I've been on an astronomy kick recently (not to be confused with an astrology kick, although I have some posts on that as well coming up). Every now and then I come across a photo which stuns me: some for the sheer colorful beauty of the heavens depicted, others for the ideas they represent. Today's primary photo falls in the latter category, but I'll include a little reminder of the former too.

Today's photo comes from the Herschel Space Observatory courtesy of Dr. Scott Chapman from the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge.

(click to zoom to get the full magnitude of the photo)

While this image may look like a bunch of static, what it represents is far more mind-blowing: Each non-black pixel in this relatively small infrared image depicts an entire galaxy. And, as previously discussed, a single galaxy contains over 100 billion stars (more than the amount of humans that have ever lived) each with the possibility of its own solar system with a possible earth-like planet. If each star was 1 square foot in size, there would be more stars represented in this picture than could cover the entirety of Earth.

That is a lot of galaxies, and billions of stars, especially for an image which is only a minuscule fraction of the total sky. If the amount of "space" out there doesn't inspire awe in you then maybe it hasn't "clicked" yet, because for me that hint of knowledge changes a seemingly boring photo of static into a masterpiece of possibilities and colors.

Plus, it helps to remember that each dot of "static" represents one of these:

To quote the great Keanu: "whoa"

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