Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Orders of Magnitude

Human beings are clever. We understand our limitations. We know we often need help to comprehend or fully appreciate the scope and magnitude of things. We also rapidly acclimate. Extraordinary knowledge becomes pedestrian in a very short time.

The Hubble telescope has been a magnificent agent in our attempt to comprehend the universe. Distances that defy our best imaginations have been reduced to mundane digital images commonly available on the internet - for free. Compare the Astronomy Photo of the Day (APOD) to the grievous history of human censure, silence, ridicule, prison, torture, and death for those brave souls attempting to share the truth in this violent, merciless place.

A Hubble image of a jet of gas arcing into space from the center of a galaxy was published a few days ago. The jet is over five thousand light years in length. It spews from a galaxy a mere fifty million light years away. These are just words. A human mind must slow down to consider their meaning in order to comprehend the reality of fifty million light years. Fifty million light years is considered "in the neighborhood" in our corner of space.

Hubble has allowed human beings to peer deeply into space and into time. Of all the human minds that have existed, a precious few dared to imagine an unimaginable universe. Then humans dared to photograph the unimaginable.

Early in its career, Hubble captured a wall of galaxies as numerous as the stars we see in our own night skies. At first glance, it is an unremarkable image. It requires human contemplation to comprehend.

When I emailed this to Robert Clark, he replied, "It makes all things seem possible."

Every bright object is a galaxy.
1994 Hubble Space Telescope photo Credit: A. Dressler (CIW), NASA

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The brain numbing part, is that the photo we see is an event that happened 50 thousand years ago and that light is just now reaching us. Today the source could be gone completely, replaced by nothing or a thousand angels dancing on the head of a pin.

Or, maybe, we're all inside a child's toy as he gleefully watches the pretty sparks and lights spinning around in a magical globe.

Our minds can do this, too. Either way, it's pretty cool!