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⩘
Our beautiful universe
As part of my morning ritual, alongside sipping a comforting cup of Hojicha, I visit NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day⩘ . Every couple of weeks, I'm rewarded with an image that leaves me awed and grateful.
The problems on our planet can at times feel overwhelming to me. When I have an opportunity like this to take a look far into our solar system, our galaxy, our universe, I feel a warm wave wash through me of peacefulness, acceptance, appreciation, awe. I enjoy a deep breath and remember that we are part of something that is near infinitely vast and incredibly beautiful. Such a gift.
Assembled from 51 exposures recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope in the 20th and 21st centuries, with additional data from ground based telescopes, this mosaic spans about 40,000 light-years across the central region of M101 in one of the highest definition spiral galaxy portraits ever released from Hubble.… Also known as the Pinwheel Galaxy, M101 lies within the boundaries of the northern constellation Ursa Major, about 25 million light-years away.
Chibundu Onuzo, Sankofa
Beautifully narrated by Sara Powell
Intriguing story intimately exploring a range of issues including racism in England, the beauty and struggles of an imagined West African county, the corruption and vulnerability of power, the sacredness of the mother-daughter bond, and the ties of family.
The cover illustration, one of the most beautiful I've seen this year, features the symbol of the mythical Sankofa bird. From Wikipedia⩘ :
Sankofa (pronounced SAHN-koh-fah) is a word in the Akan Twi and Fante languages of Ghana that translates to "retrieve" (literally "go back and get"; san – to return; ko – to go; fa – to fetch, to seek and take) and also refers to the Bono Adinkra symbol represented either with a stylized heart shape or by a bird with its head turned backwards while its feet face forward carrying a precious egg in its mouth. Sankofa is often associated with the proverb, "Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi," or "Sankofa w'onkyir" which translates as: "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten." It implores for Africans to reach back into ancient history for traditions and customs that have been left behind.
Living in the Rockies
We took a walk along St. Vrain Creek this late afternoon. A cold front is coming in tomorrow with a good chance of a bit of rain/snow, and the winds are quickly knocking the leaves out of the trees, so today is probably the last day of what has been an extraordinarily beautiful autumn.
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.
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.
The Milky Way, as vast as it is, creates just a smidgen of light in our local group of galaxies. Its light takes about 2,300,000 years to travel just to the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest large spiral 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, a tiny fraction of which are visible in this eXtreme Deep Field Hubble image. We are part of something that is near infinitely vast and incredibly beautiful. Such a gift.
To get more perspective on the eXtreme Deep Field (XDF) Hubble image, see the short video: Hubble Legacy Field Zoom-Out⩘ . Make sure to read the notes, too. See also The Hubble Ultra Deep Field in Light and Sound⩘ at Astronomy Picture of the Day, which adds a pointer you can use to see just how far away a galaxy or star is, as well as hear a note play that corresponds to its redshift.
To get a glimpse of an idea of just how big our observable universe is, see Neal Agarwal's fun website, The Size of Space⩘ , the BBC video by Professor Brian Cox, How big is our Universe?⩘ , and CGP Gray's Metric Paper & Everything in the Universe⩘ . Here's another glimpse: What does two trillion galaxies mean?⩘
By the way, because of the Earth's spin, if we're standing still at the equator, we'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