If you find yourself needing a little perspective today then take 2 minutes to watch the following YouTube video:
Now consider this: Those dots aren’t individual stars. They’re individual galaxies.
This animated flight through the universe was made by Miguel Aragon of Johns Hopkins University with Mark Subbarao of the Adler Planetarium and Alex Szalay of Johns Hopkins. There are close to 400,000 galaxies in the animation, with images of the actual galaxies in these positions (or in some cases their near cousins in type) derived from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) Data Release 7. Vast as this slice of the universe seems, its most distant reach is to redshift 0.1, corresponding to roughly 1.3 billion light years from Earth. SDSS Data Release 9 from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), led by Berkeley Lab scientists, includes spectroscopic data for well over half a million galaxies at redshifts up to 0.8 — roughly 7 billion light years distant — and over a hundred thousand quasars to redshift 3.0 and beyond.
I find this both awe inspiring and a little sad. That’s just a small slice of the universe we know about and it is mind bendingly huge on its own. When you stop to consider the distances between those galaxies it’s hard not to be awed by it.
And that’s also what makes me a little sad. Proxima Centauri is the next closest star to our solar system and it is roughly 4.24 light years away pretty much putting it out of our reach for visiting unless we find some way to bend the laws of physics. The closest known galaxy to ours is the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy which is roughly 25,000 light years away from the Sun. That’s a difficult number to fathom on its own. When you realize that a light year is 5.87849981 × 1012 miles (roughly 6 trillion miles) it becomes even more so.
Now consider how close everything looked in that video. There’s just tons of places to go and see! Except that you’re looking at literally billions of light years of distance which means we’ll probably never see any of it up close. We’ll be lucky if we ever make it to Proxima Centauri given the distance involved, going to a neighboring galaxy is likely to forever remain a dream of science fiction writers. Not that NASA isn’t still considering the possibility, but the challenges of just getting to our neighbor star are overwhelming.
So much stuff out there and no real chance of seeing it. Guess I’ll have to settle for watching sci-fi movies for the time being.