We live in an immense universe – a place so large that scale means virtually nothing. After all, what’s the different between six million light years and six billion light years? The distance and the absolute vastness of space is already so massive it’s difficult for us to fathom. Despite this seemingly unconquerable task, we’ve taken a crack at it, bringing you 25 pictures and associated facts about the immensity of space.
Though we Earthians think we’re pretty special, in galactic terms, we’re pretty insignificant, not even 1% of 1% of 1% of 1% of the universe. And that’s still an understatement. Here, we pair up pictures with facts of unfathomable proportions. For instance, did you know we can use interstellar matter as a magnifying glass to see much more distant parts of the universe? (The magnifying effect has thus far allowed us to see stars over 13 billion light years away.) Or how about there’s a quasar that shoots matter 5,900 quadrillion miles into the surrounding universe? (That’s 5,900,000,000,000,000,000 miles, if that puts it into any perspective.) Or how about that any one hydrogen atom on the sun is expected to collide with another one only once every five billion years? If any of these facts peaked your interest, you’ll love these 25 Pictures That Capture the Vastness of Space.
Infinitesimally small chances
The chances that a random hydrogen atom on the Sun will collide with another hydrogen atom and create nuclear fusion is estimated to happen only once in every five billion years. Since there are loads of hydrogen atoms in the Sun’s core, we don’t have to worry about the Sun going dark for at least a few billion years.
The lit-up Whirlpool Galaxy
This striking image of the Whirlpool Galaxy, about 30 million light years from Earth, shines with multiple points of vivid brightness likely caused by ravenous black holes.
The misplaced arms
The galaxy NGC 4258 is a typical spiral galaxy except for one major feature: two huge spiral arms full of gas which stretch out perpendicularly to its main arms.
One of the coolest things astronomers have learned to do is use interstellar matter – such as stars and dark matter with strong gravitational pulls – as a lens in space, magnifying the light of objects behind them. This image, magnified through the galaxy cluster Abell 1689, gives us a view of stars over 13 billion light years away.
When a black hole erupts (shoots out shock waves), it forcefully pushes gas outward and creates massive holes known as cavities in its surrounding galaxy, as seen here in NGC 5813.