A Sense Of Perspective

Wednesday, May 6, 2009 7:20 | Filed in Science

This is one of those ones that I have to thank twitter for. If @brucel hadn’t mentioned it, I wouldn’t have come across Dries Buytaert’s post ‘we are small and insignificant’.

And more important, I might not have seen this image. You may need to zoom into it in order to really understand.

For those people who can’t see the image, basically, the panels show a succession of images, starting with the Earth and moon shown to relative scale, and gradually introducing larger objects, again shown to relative scale. For example, Earth’s diameter is shown to be about 1/4 the diameter of Uranus, which is about 1/3 that of Jupiter, which is about 1/10 that of the Sun, which is about 1/9 the diameter of the star Pollux, which is about 1/9 that of the star Rigel, which is about 1/6 that of the star Antares, which is about 1/3 the diameter of the star Mu Cephei, which is about 1/5 that of the star VY Canis Majoris, the largest known star.

That’s just a visual approximation: getting the radii of the respective things of t’interweb, I could put it another way … if Earth is considered to have a volume of 1 earth unit, then:

  • our sun has a volume of around 1.3 million earth units
  • Rigel has a volume of around 310 billion earth units
  • Antares has a volume of around 450 trillion earth units
  • and VY Canis Majoris, the largest star known has a volume of around 12 quadrillion earth units

In other words, you could fit 12,000,000,000,000,000 planets the size of earth into it. That’s quite a lot. On a cosmic scale, we — as a planet — are vanishingly small. And when you’re only one of 6,000,000,000 people on that planet, you’re just one tiny speck of dust.

So next time someone tells you to put things into perspective, you now have all the facts you need to explain exactly what your — and their — place is in the cosmic scheme of things. But even if one individual is vanishingly important on a cosmic scale, that doesn’t make them any less valuable when measured on a human scale.

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