Wonders of The Universe

Them's not stars but galaxies!

 There are over 3,000 specs of light in this photograph and each and every one is a galaxy! How do I know this? Professor Brian Cox told me so!

Professor Brian Cox

I have always had an interest in the sky (I have a telescope and charts) so when the BBC programme Wonders Of The Universe presented by Professor Brian Cox appeared I watched it.

Watched it? I was mesmerized by it.

Listening to Prof Brian is like listening to poetry, his accent is easy on the ear and he seems to almost talk in verse, he explains the fundamentals of physics and astrophysics in such a way that he even has me believing that I understand.

The big picture above was taken by Hubble in 1996, if you looked up at the night sky this picture would represent an amount of space covered by one grain of rice!

I’ve heard it said that there are more stars in our universe than grains of sand on planet Earth, since nobody can count either nor ever will I’ll keep an open mind.

Close up

 The Hubble site allows you to zoom in and out enabling you to see the whirls of the galaxies, fascinating stuff.

50 thoughts on “Wonders of The Universe”

  1. P.S.

    Prof Brian was a musician before he became a prof, keyboard player for D:Ream, they had a no. 1 with ‘Things can only get better’ (the Labour party theme song!)

    How’s that for talent?

  2. OK then Soutie,

    I have tried to get my head around this and just can’t. See if you can come up with a plausible answer.

    Given that those pretty specks in the pic are thousands of light years away, what we are looking at is llight that originated 1000s of years ago. That much I can grasp.

    What happens if a Space ship travelling at light speed heads away from us on a straight trajectory? Say we look out with a telescope 1 yr after the launch, how far away would the ship appear to be?

  3. I was quite prepared to like him until I read that bit about the Labour theme song. B’staard.

    I was at the Breede River the other day and somebody had with them an iPad with an app that names the stars, displaying them on the screen, purely by pointing the camera at them. Quite a nifty little product.

    Re huge number of stars in the universe, it is estimated that there are between 4×10^79 and 10^81 atoms in the known universe. Curiously this is lower than the number, 10^90 of years that it would take a computer (operating at the rate of one variation per micro-second) to make its first move in a game of chess based on calculations involving every possible move in the entire game (Shannon number 10^123) to ensure a win.

    I know this must be true, because I read it here.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shannon_number

  4. Rightyoh Furry

    1 light year = 6 million million miles.(6 trillions) or 10 million million kilometers.

    The specs of light are 13 billion light years away!

    Your spacecraft wouldn’t even have reached the nearest galaxy to us, Andromeda, the equivalent of you setting off for a holiday in Turkey and you’ve just got your foot out the door 😉

    In his last programme he told us that space isn’t infinite, there is a beginning and an end but that it’s so bloody big that it’s almost impossible for the human mind to understand a size that large that it might as well be infinite!

    I know how you feel, I did say in my post that ‘he even has me believing that I understand’

  5. Sipu :

    I was quite prepared to like him until I read that bit about the Labour theme song. B’staard.

    Howzit Sipu

    Not entirely Prof Brian’s fault, I think that it would be fair to say that the song was a hit long before Labour used it 😉

  6. You missed my point Soutie ol’ chum.

    If the space ship has been going away for 1 yr at light speed, and I choose that moment to look at it though a telescope. By my reckoning I will see a ship that is only half a light year away since it takes the light from the ship at that distance a half a year to get back to me.

  7. Soutie :

    Sipu :

    I was quite prepared to like him until I read that bit about the Labour theme song. B’staard.

    Howzit Sipu

    Not entirely Prof Brian’s fault, I think that it would be fair to say that the song was a hit long before Labour used it ;)

    True, but presumably he gave New Labour the right to use it in their campaign. My goodness how I remember the horror of that election night. Such irony that that particular song was used by such awful people.

  8. Yes but here’s the bit that bakes my small furry noodle. Should the ship turn round and head towards me, it is approaching me at the same speed as the light I see coming from it. Therefore If I glance at it when it is half a light year away is it actually back here at the start point? Because that light took half a year to reach me and the ship has come along with it.

    I think I shall now go and have a lie down.

  9. Ferret: Please reconsider your answer to Soutie by taking into account the red shift of the light from the receding space ship. I think you will find that you will not see the spaceship at all, until and unless it slows below light speed.

  10. El Dubya,

    So you are saying that because it is travelling away at the speed that its light is being thrown backwards. No image is cast behind it? Therefore an object travelling away at the speed of light becomes invisible.

    OK light is radiation I am prepared to buy that.

    They say, nothing can go faster than the speed of light. So what happens if that space ship when tootling along at lightspeed switches it’s headlights on? The filaments are going at light speed therefore shouldn’t their radiation be travelling at twice the speed of light?

  11. Ferret:

    Yes, If it is receding at light speed any radiation directed backwards towards a stationary observer will be red shifted to zero frequency (infinite wavelength).

    Likewise if it is approaching a stationary observer at light speed any radiation directed forward will be blue shifted to Infinite frequency (zero wavelength), so you will not see the bugger coming either, in that case you could imagine the filaments to be lit but the light cannot be projected forward faster than the filaments are moving.

    The speed of light is not measured relative to any movement of the source, it is an absolute number.

    All the objects in Souties pictures are moving away from the observer, their speed is proportional to their distance from the observer,( the further away they are the faster they are moving) the red shift of their radiation measures their speed but as a result can measure their distance. None are moving at anything close to light speed, if they were they would not form an image.

  12. OK El Dubya,

    That is about as clear as mud so here is another question.

    I observe a ship which is 2 lt yrs away and stationary with my Hubble. It then starts towards me at the speed of light and every night I look for it in the sky. Since blue shift makes it invisible, does it simply appear as though it never set off until it decelerates into earth orbit?

  13. Right then, another fly in the speed of light ointment.

    Prof Brian did say that it’s thought (and he uses the ‘thought’ word quite a lot) that it may be possible for something to travel faster than the speed of light, and that there could be (‘could’, another one of those words he uses) a flaw in Einsteins theory.

    He did add that nobody’s been clever enough to prove it yet but that we shouldn’t be surprised if somebody, someday does. Oh, I think that he mentioned that it may not be in our lifetime 😉

  14. …and

    I’ve never bothered hypothesizing about objects traveling at the speed of light, all references to light and speed are merely to calculate distance.

  15. Soutie :

    …and

    I’ve never bothered hypothesizing about objects traveling at the speed of light, all references to light and speed are merely to calculate distance.

    But if it is a speed, then surely it can be achieved. You can’t just ignore something because the process of doing it makes the theory fall down.

  16. Hello Sipu, Your #4 closes a rather large circle, Claude Shannon who’s number you quote was a contemporary of Alan Turing and may well have met him while Turing was at Princeton, Shannon certainly met and worked with John Von Neuman during WW2 in cryptography. Shannon is largely credited with the invention of information theory especially as it pertains to the use of Boolean logic in simplifying circuit design.

    Another unknown engineer who changed the World.

  17. Ferret :

    But if it is a speed, then surely it can be achieved. You can’t just ignore something because the process of doing it makes the theory fall down.

    Agreed, in my discussions we just haven’t bothered and merely use light years as distances. Bit like talking about rugby, we never mention the colour of the grass but we know it’s there 😉

  18. Ferret Your #15, To a first approximation, yes. The light from the stationary ship will take two years to reach the observer after the ship has left. The ship cannot accelerate from zero to light speed instantly, (it cannot get there at all with any technology that is known but that is another subject) so while it is accelerating some more light can reach the observer (blue shifted in proportion to its speed), when it gets to light speed it will carry all other light with it until it starts to slow down approaching the observer, then the blue shift will reduce in proportion to it’s speed unitil it is stationary close to the observer.

    What does the observer see? For two years he sees a stationary distant ship, then the ship changes colour through the blue to ultra violet and out of the visible spectrum, some time later depending on the rate of acceleration of the ship a blue ship will appear much closer (at the deceleration point) and will resume it’s natural colour as it comes to a standstill.

  19. Your not fooling me El Dubya,

    I’ve seen the enterprise when Jean Luc does the pointy finger thing, it takes off like a stoat with a firecracker up it’s jacksie. Nought to bitchin’ quick in the blink of an eye. It must be true, I saw it on the telly!

  20. Ferret, the link in you #18, fascinating stuff, thanks.

    I note that in Prof Brian’s wiki bio they tell us that he is part of one of the CERN ‘High energy physics’ groups, no surprises there!

  21. Furry and LW, can you say that again for Backside? He wants to know what he’ll find after he’s visted all them galaxies. 🙂

  22. Evening Janus

    Actually the galaxies are going to come visit you. Andromeda is due to collide with ours in the near future (space time that is, a couple of billion years or so.)

  23. Ferret #3: If the space ship is travelling AT the sped of light, it will be infinitely massive, according to the latest theories, and hence the universe will implode around it.

  24. Four-eyed English Genius :

    Ferret #3: If the space ship is travelling AT the sped of light, it will be infinitely massive, according to the latest theories, and hence the universe will implode around it.

    Howzit FEEG

    Well then, if it’s infinitely massive Ferret should have no problem spotting it! 🙂

  25. Evenin’, Soutie. Before I read iyour #31 again, I had a sudden, horrifying image of an infinitely massive Ferret.

    Shudder!

    OZ

  26. Ha ha Oz

    An infinitely massive Ferret traveling at the speed of light straight towards you 🙂

    But don’t worry about it, too much,as LW says in his #14, you wouldn’t know about it ’till he arrived!

  27. Soutie – Most of this extreme astrophysics stuff whistles over my increasingly drooping ears to be honest, although I have to admit having thoroughly enjoyed his last two series. The NSW, on the other hand and her own right no intellectual slouch, thinks the Prof. is a) “cute” and b) wants to mother him. The upside is that we can watch his progammes together, albeit for very different reasons.

    OZ

  28. Back to your original point, Soutie, I am reminded of ‘Olbers’ paradox’. Perhaps you, or LW, or even the ‘Labour Luvvie Professor’ could explain that!

  29. LW is closest – loved that one 🙂 If you tune to an FM radio station, in the ‘noise’ either side of the actual wavelength, something like 1 ten-thousandth of the ‘interference’ is the remains of the Big Bang – ‘fossilised’ light, or light subjected to billions of years-worth of wavelength decay. (microwave background radiation.)

    Fascinating story of how it was predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity and discovered by by Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson of Bell Laboratories – by accident 🙂

    Short version here…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discovery_of_cosmic_microwave_background_radiation

  30. You can “hear” light, I have been told, near the Poles, for example, Aurora Borealis, or Northern lights. I have no idea if this is true.

  31. Sipu: Your #37, re Olbers paradox (should that be Olbers’ or Olber’s). In the distant future he may be right, I don’t think we have been around long enough for things to settle down to anything like uniformity. Entropy (disorder) is still on the increase , our own sun is busy fissioning up the periodic table towards iron when it will go dark. The stuff of the universe is spreading out more with time. In reality there just may not be enough stuff about to make a homogenous universe. Maybe all that dark matter will help.

  32. I knew that Bravo as I’ve been listening to Bill Bryson’s ‘A short History of Nearly Everything’ – but I’ve only just come to this vair interesting discussion 🙂

  33. Araminta :

    You can “hear” light, I have been told, near the Poles, for example, Aurora Borealis, or Northern lights. I have no idea if this is true.

    I’ll just ask Arthur Dent for his’ experience of this Nordic phenomenon! 🙂

  34. Brilliant (no not the galaxies) but the discussion, absolutely brilliant.

    I’d heard of microwave background radiation (Prof Brian explained it in the last episode ;)) but not old man Olbers’ theory, after googling it I’m still in the dark 🙂

    LW ‘our own sun is busy fissioning up the periodic table towards iron’ gravity! Is gravity the most powerful of forces in the Universe? The destroyer and the creator!

    Answers on a postcard please 😉

  35. I think it was Jean Michel Jarre, (Mr Charlotte Rampling) who once played a harp, the strings of which were laser beams. Breaking the beam of light generated a note. Does that count?

  36. Sipu, you remind me of this:

    For I took me harp to a party
    But nobody asked me to play,
    The others were jolly and hearty
    But I wasn’t feeling so gay.
    They might have said, “Play us a tune we can sing.”
    But somehow I don’t think they noticed the thing.
    I took me harp to a party
    But nobody asked me to play
    So… I took the darned thing away!

    I bet that never happened to JM Jarre! (He wasn’t feeling gay though)

  37. Soutie :

    Brilliant (no not the galaxies) but the discussion, absolutely brilliant.

    I’d heard of microwave background radiation (Prof Brian explained it in the last episode ;) ) but not old man Olbers’ theory, after googling it I’m still in the dark :)

    LW ‘our own sun is busy fissioning up the periodic table towards iron’ gravity! Is gravity the most powerful of forces in the Universe? The destroyer and the creator!

    Answers on a postcard please ;)

    Soutie: Your short questions have really long answers. The shortest answer to this one is, No, Gravitation is the weakest of the “natural Forces”, despite the fact that it keeps us stuck on this sphere and the Earth rotating round the Sun.

    Ranked from Weakest to Strongest with approximate relative strengths are

    Gravitation 1
    Weak Nuclear Force 10^25
    Electromagnetic Force 10^36
    Strong Nuclear Force 10^38

    If you Google any of these definitions you will see a substantial heap of heavy mathematics, but in general all the forces are now believed to come about as a result of the bodies exchanging a particle, generally the heavier the particle that is exchanged the larger the force.

    It may not seem possible from the complicated formulae involved and the esoteric nature of the strong forces but the least understood force is gravitation, nobody has so far put forward a encompassing theory that fully explains what it is or how it acts over distance.

    Now I’m going to have a lie down.

  38. LW. Thank you.

    I’ll sleep a lot better now.

    I’m sure that Prof Brian told us that despite all the nuclear and electromagnetic stuff that gravity eventually takes over, that’s what causes the stars to implode.

    But it’s gravity that forms new ones and the new ones and the new ones.

    A conundrum of note.

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