Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Day the Sun Got Littler

This morning I couldn't see the sun because a dull cover of grey clouds ensconced the chunk of landmass where I live. But there I sat, still contemplating the sun and her magnificent death rays and reading her online dating profile, when I surprised myself by thinking, "well, that's not very big!" To put it in context, consider the two freaking gigantic black holes recently discovered by some astronomers in California. The article states, "Both encompass regions or 'event horizons' about five times the distance from the sun to Pluto." 

So I decided to do some math.

Math can be quite inspiring.

The distance from Pluto to the Sun is 3.67 billion miles*. 3.67 billion miles times 5 is 18.35 billion miles across, a number that is impossible to grasp. For help understanding big numbers, ask xkcd. Basically, the span of the biggest black hole's event horizon stretches for this number of miles:

18,350,000,000 miles

My next step involved finding out the size of the sun, because the sun is the biggest thing I know and can see and with which I mayhaps have some sort of understanding. So I read about the sun... heat... fire... solar system... moon... mass... distance... earth...

diameter: 864,938 miles.

And I thought to myself, "well, that's not very big."

Of course the Earth is smaller than the sun, and the continents and oceans are smaller than the Earth, and you could keep going like this until you get to quarks, but compared to the vastness of the universe, the sun isn't very big. Neither are we.

But who cares? Because we have great big minds which try ever so hard to encompass great big ideas which are mind boggling and socket blowing and bubble popping all at the same time; and despite our desperately diminutive state of existence, we will continue to build whopping big robots that explode from the surface of the earth in search of life on other planets, we'll still jump in front of trains to save a little girl's life, and we'll still continue to fight with each other, just to prove that we're right.

*Speaking of Pluto, the probe which is set to reach the not-quite planet in 2015, moved closer to Pluto than any probe before it three days ago.) 

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