Searching for contentment
This is what fascinates me most in existence:
the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real.
– Philip Gourevitch
epigraph to Blindsight by Peter Watts >
Living in the Rockies
There have been so many native wildflowers this spring, I guess because of all the early spring snow and rainfall we had. Here are some of the flowers I saw on today's walk (there are more in an earlier post⩘ ; just scroll down).
Peter Brannen, The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions
Narrated by Adam Verner
A very interesting journey through Earth time covering five mass extinctions (End-Ordovician, Late Devonian, End-Permian, End-Triassic, and End-Cretaceous), as well as what happened in-between, with a focus on learning how understanding these events can be applied to our understanding of our current circumstances, and might even inspire us to take more fruitful actions to address them.
The subject matter is deadly serious, but the author and narrator do a nice job of keeping it lighter and, at times, even humorous. Still, I vacillated between sometimes feeling despondent—especially when Brannen compared past carbon dioxide build ups and ocean acidification to what we are causing to happen so rapidly today, and the consequences of that to our future—and at other times relaxing into an acceptance of the grand scale of our planet and time. As an individual, I likely will experience some great discomfort over the coming years, even life-threatening. As a society, we likely will face huge disruptions. As a species, we might face catastrophic consequences. Yet when viewed at the planetary level, this is just another cycle; and when viewed at the universal scale, just a wisp of dust on the cosmic breeze.
One thing I found curiously interesting was how trees—those wondrous sources of life to our present day planet—were, when they first arose, ecologically cataclysmic to a lot of the other pre-existing life on earth.
Like the first trees, we are extraordinary in the history of life for our ability to radically alter the geochemical cycles of the planet, with dramatic consequences for the climate, the oxygenation of the oceans, and life on land and in the sea. And there's something more than a little poetic in our doing so by digging up and igniting the carbon-rich life buried in black shale by the Late Devonian mass extinctions.
"What's happened is not that humans have evolved right now, since hominid evolution has been going on for 6 or 7 million years," [University of Cincinnati geologist Thomas] Algeo pointed out, "but rather that we've evolved to the point where our technology is causing havoc on the planet's surface. It's an analogous development."
Harper Audio, 2017, Downpour⩘
A galactic powerhouse
We live in such an astonishing, mind expanding universe, a place of infinite wonder!
NGC 3254 has a fascinating secret that it is hiding in plain sight—it is a Seyfert galaxy, meaning that it has an extraordinarily active core, known as an active galactic nucleus, which releases as much energy as the rest of the galaxy put together.
ESA/Hubble images: A Galactic Powerhouse, NGC 3254⩘
Dedicated to my good friend Thomas Hey'l
who has inspired me to look at design more deeply
and to take even more care about precision.
Sharks kill an average of 10 people per year. People kill around 100,000,000 sharks per year 1. People also kill approximately 425,000 people per year, topped only by mosquitoes, which kill about 725,000 people per year 2.
(See also: The woman who swims with sharks⩘ )
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People walk at an average pace of about 2.5 miles per hour.
Meanwhile, light travels about 186,000 miles per second, or about 11,160,000 miles per hour. It would take light about 0.13 seconds to travel around the Earth,
1.3 seconds to travel the 238,900 miles from the moon to the Earth,
8.3 minutes to travel the 93,000,000 miles from the sun to Earth, and 1.3 hours to travel the 890,000,000 miles from the sun to Saturn. To get a glimpse of an idea of just how far away Saturn is, see If the Moon were only 1 pixel⩘ by Josh Worth.
At the scale of the solar system, the Earth is a spec of dust. 1,300,000 Earths could fit within our sun.
Our sun, as big as it is, is just a tiny twinkle of light in a suburb of the Milky Way galaxy. Its light takes about 27,000 years to travel to the center of our galaxy.
One light year is just short of six trillion miles (5,878,625,000,000). The Milky Way has a diameter of about 100,000 light-years, and contains as many as 400 billion stars, which together create a smidgen of light in our local group of galaxies.
The light of the Milky Way takes about 2,300,000 years to travel just to the nearby Andromeda galaxy. Isn't it amazing that by using our inherent art of visualization, we can be there, instantly, in this moment.
The observable universe is estimated to contain as many as two trillion galaxies. To get more perspective on this eXtreme Deep Field (XDF) Hubble image, see the short video: Hubble Legacy Field Zoom-Out⩘ . Make sure to read the notes, too.
To get a glimpse of an idea of just how big the observable universe is, see Neal Agarwal's fun website, The Size of Space⩘ and CGP Gray's Metric Paper & Everything in the Universe⩘
By the way, because of the Earth's spin, if you're standing still at the equator, you're actually moving at about 1,667 km/hour (1,037 miles/hour). The Earth is orbiting our sun at approximately 30 km/sec (67,108 miles/hour). Our sun is orbiting the center of our Milky Way Galaxy at approximately 250 km/sec (560,000 miles/hour). And our galaxy is moving through our universe at approximately 600 km/sec (1,340,000 miles/hour). Hang on!
If you'd like to move through time as quickly as you're moving through our universe, you might enjoy watching this TED talk by David Christian, one of the founders of the Big History Project: The history of our world in 18 minutes⩘
All distances and times are approximate.
- Inspiration: "New 3D map of the Milky Way shows we live in a warped galaxy⩘ ," NBC News, 2019.
- A related TED Talk: The Exhilarating Peace of Freediving by Guillaume Néry⩘ (really, it's related). And if you are as enchanted by the talk as I am, you may enjoy this visual experience, which is wordless, but rich in subtle sounds: One Breath Around the World featuring Guillaume Néry⩘
- Another related, and fun, video: Every Kind of Thing in Space⩘ by Domain of Science.
- As large as it is, our sun is just a spec of dust: The Largest Star in the Universe – Size Comparison⩘ by Kurzgesagt.
- Related project: A team of five French amateur astrophotographers has assembled an amazing gallery of Souther Sky deep space images from their observatory in Chile, Ciel Austral⩘ .
- Gazing into the universe: If you enjoy looking up and out: Astronomy Picture of the Day⩘ .
- Hiking trail in Cow Creek valley⩘ by Toshen, CC by NCSA⩘
- Blue Marble, 2012, Earth image⩘ by NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
- Full moon image⩘ by Toshen, CC by NCSA⩘
- Saturn⩘ by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
- Sun, from the video Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun⩘ by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
- The Milky Way in Yosemite⩘ by bgwashburn⩘ is licensed under CC BY 2.0⩘ (cropped)
- Milky Way in Summer: VL test PSP8 by gjdonatiello⩘ is licensed under CC CC0 1.0⩘ (cropped)
- Andromeda⩘ by NASA/JPL-Caltech
- Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF)⩘ : NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team