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August 03, 2011

On February 14, 1990, the space craft Voyager 1 was on the very fringe of our solar system. Before it drifted away to wander the galaxy, engineers turned the cameras around and pointed them toward earth, 6.4 billion kilometers away. This historic photograph captured earth as just the tiniest point of light in a vast sky. Carl Sagan looked at that photograph and declared, “Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.” We are, after all, the inhabitants of just a speck, the tiniest pinprick of light in a universe of unimaginable proportions.

How big is the universe? It’s an impossible question for us to answer, of course, but that has not stopped many from making an attempt. I enjoy hearing about those attempts. Here is one that I came across the other day. It’s worth three-and-a-half minutes of your time:

According to this video, the approximate size of the universe is big. Really big. Really, really big. Scientists pointed the Hubble Telescope at what appeared to be a completely dark area of the sky and left it in place for a 4 month exposure. What they found there was not just stars, but entire galaxies, and this in an area that could be blotted out by holding a grain of rice at arm’s length. Divide the sky into 27 million parts and each of those 27 million parts contains not just stars but entire galaxies.