A Sense of Scale Part 2: The Sky is Not the Limit
From the tiniest atom the largest galaxy, the scale of our universe is truly astounding. Come take a ride!
Welcome back to part 2 of our amazing journey!
After shrinking the sizes so small that came into contact with the fabric of the universe itself, is it now time to travel far into space to see some of the most massive structures of nature.
Take the tour yourself by clicking here!
A Review of the Metric System
If you weren’t here for the first leg of our adventure, fear not!
Let’s go over the metric system one more time.
Remember that 1 meter is equal to approximately 39.4 inches, 3.3 feet, or 0.00062 miles.
As we travel farther and farther out into space, you can multiply any metric number I use with these values to convert them.
As I did last time, I will use scientific notation to make some of these gigantic numbers more bearable.
Just keep in mind that the amount you see in the exponent is how many times you move the decimal place over to the right because the exponents will now be positive.
For example: 1.0 X 109 meters (m) is equal to 1,000,000,000 meters (1 billion meters)!
That is an incredible distance that is equal to 621,371 miles! That is 25 times greater than the circumference of the Earth.
What is more incredible is that we will see distances much, much greater than that.
The Stairway to Heaven
Let’s jump into our amazing machine again - start her up!
This time, instead of shrinking we are going to be flying up into the heavens and out into the farthest reaches of space.
We return to the neighborhood park and notice many people walking, jogging, and enjoying the scenery.
An average human is about 1.7 meters, or 1.7 X 100 meters, tall.
As we begin to lift off, we can see greater structures all around us.
- As we move up one power of ten, we notice some large oak trees. An average oak tree is about 15 meters tall (1.5 X 101 meters).
- Angel Falls is another order of magnitude larger than the oak tree at 979 meters (9.79 X 102 meters) tall.
In order to see a structure a power of ten greater than Angel Falls, we need to shoot over to the Himalayas.
- Before long, we come across the tallest mountain on Earth – Mount Everest.
- Everest is 8,848 meters, or 8.8 kilometers (there is 1000 meters in 1 kilometer) tall. That’s 8.8 X 103 meters in scientific notation.
We leave the highest point on our globe, this majestic giant, and head back to the United States, well one state in particular, in ordr to explore another dimension: width.
We gain altitude as we go and head to New England.
- Small States
- We head to the noble state of Rhode Island as our example for our next power of ten.
- Even though Rhode Island is the smallest U.S. state, it is still 75 kilometers at its longest dimension. This equates to 7.5 X 104 meters.
- Larger states
- We head south to check out a much larger state.
- We come across West Virginia at 400 kilometers or 4 X 105 meters across.
- As we wave West Virginia goodbye, we head up, up, and away
We fly through the atmosphere at an incredible rate and before we know it, we are out in space.
Before long we come across an old friend.
- Small celestial bodies
- At 2,300 kilometers (2.3 X 106) in diameter, Pluto was once known as the smallest of the planets. Recently however, Pluto was downgraded to a planetoid or dwarf planet.
Temperatures on Pluto are extremely cold (-230 Celsius or -382 Fahrenheit) because it is so far away from the Sun.
Well, we need to head back towards Earth.
- Relax, we aren’t ending our trip yet, we need to go back to see an example of something that is the next power of ten and the Planet Earth is a perfect specimen.
- Upon returning to Earth, we see how beautiful our blue-green planet really is.
- The diameter of the Earth is about 12,700 kilometers or 1.27 X 107 meters.
For the next power of ten, we zoom over the largest planet in our solar system, a massive gas giant called Jupiter.
Named after the head Roman god, Jupiter is truly massive with a diameter of 140,000 kilometers, or 1.4 X 108 meters.
The Great Red Spot, a massive storm in the atmosphere of Jupiter, is actually the size of the Earth!
We wave goodbye to this massive planet and head to the center of our solar system.
- We reach the bright giver of life at the center of the solar system, the Sun.
- The Sun dwarves Jupiter with a diameter of 1.4 million kilometers (1.4 X 109meters)!
For the next power of ten, we have to travel and incredible distance.
Fortunately for us, our machine has the power to break the laws of physics and travel faster than light.
I love the power of imagination!
Anyway, after a few moments, we come across something truly massive after traveling 390 light years (one light year is about 10 trillion kilometers or 1 X 1015 meters), according to the Lunar and Planetary Institute.
Polaris, or the North Star, is an order of magnitude larger than our sun with a diameter of 40 million kilometers or 4 X 1010 meters.
We travel farther into space and come across another large star.
We begin traveling again, at speeds that break the speed of light! We come across another red giant star named VY Canis Majoris.
This star has a diameter of 3 X 1012 meters (3 billion kilometers)!
- In our quest for the next power of ten, we come across the Homunculus Nebula. This large cloud of gas is believed to be a remnant of a supernova explosion.
- This nebula is 2 X 1013 meters, or 20 billion kilometers, across.
There are many other nebulas out there, some as big as the Rosette Nebula which is 1 X 1018 meters across!
We must find something bigger. What else does the Universe have in store?
- Globular Clusters
- We fly past nebula after nebula and come across an interesting structure, globular clusters.
- These clusters are basically mini-galaxies that are home to many stars.
Messier is 54 light years across or 3 X 1018 meters!
- Dwarf Galaxies
- After moving out farther into space, we come across actual galaxies!
- Galaxies are large collections of stars. The Milky Way Galaxy, where our solar system is located, is actually home to billions of other stars.
- Galaxies range in size from 5 X 1020 meters like the Sombrero Galaxy to the IC 1101, which is 5 X 1022 meters across.
Is there anything bigger? Surprisingly yes!
- Galaxy Clusters
- Supercluster Complex
We travel further and further out into space, into uncharted territory.
What happens next is purely up to your imagination. Do we hit the limit of the universe or do we keep going?
All I can tell you is that the estimated size of the universe if 1.6 X 1027 meters or 160 billion light years across!
Keep your feet on the ground!
Unfortunately, it is time for us to return to Earth. We hit the hyperdrive and travel at an amazing speed back to Earth.
We zoom through the Virgo Supercluster complex looking for the slight spec of light that is the Milky Way!
We find our galaxy in a sea of others and fly into it. Know we have to find our Sun. It is a speck of light this far away.
After locating our little star, we travel towards it, its light calling us home.
Finally, we come across our little blue-green marble in the abyss of space. We fly through the atmosphere and move toward the North American continent.
We fly towards Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia.
We are almost there! Finally we find our destination, our park.
It has truly been an amazing adventure. Thank you so much for coming along.
If you want to learn more, make sure to check out the Scale of the Universe interactive tour!
Thanks again and keep thinking about it!