“Space,” it says, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space, listen…” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
Now that we’re up, up and away, a little orientation of the universe seemed like as good a way as any to get started. The problem is that the sheer scales of even the most trivial objects in the universe are so beyond our day-to-day experiences is that it is very difficult to get our heads around them.
That shouldn’t surprise us. After all, we evolved to survive on a planet that happened to be of a certain size. Perhaps if we were some sort of interstellar whales we might have a more intuitive sense of the sizes and distances of everything from small asteroids to the largest stars. But even then we might have a hard time contemplating the relative sizes of galaxies and the vast distances between them.
Fortunately, such scales are not beyond our mathematics, nor beyond our ability to express them in a convenient infographic courtesy of the folks at numbersleuth.org. Be sure to click for the full size as it’s worth a fun little read.
While I trust that their scales check out, some of the imagery used is incorrect or misleading. For example, the image of the solar system chosen only goes out to the orbit of Jupiter. It’s much larger than that, of course. The first two images of the poster for the Observable Universe and the Observed Universe should be switched and labeled differently. Still, it’s a pretty fun way to get a handle on the scales of these things.
But wait, there’s more!
As an added bonus, the same folks were kind enough to organize the infographic into a handy zoomable interactive:
Enjoy zooming around!