By cosmic standards the asteriod Ida (above) is "pint-sized"—only as large as the Hawaiian island of Molokai! (1.6.x)
Intriguing coincidences are found on cosmic scales. The Sun is 400 times larger in diameter than our Moon AND 400 times farther away! So solar eclipses can look like this . . . (1.6.x)
Note: after running a link like the one above at top for the asteroid Ida, Right Drag with your mouse to get a sense of the 3-dimensional aspects of its structure and orbit.
Are you unfamiliar with our 1.6.x and 1.4.1 links? For an explanation click here.
TIME SCALE OF
When considering the "Scale of the Cosmos," it is not only physical dimension that we should reflect upon, but also time. From the Hubble site, here are a few images that illustrate the "Time Scale of the Cosmos!"
And here's one from NASA's WMAP site.
And here's a cool interactive look at the scale of time.
And below you can compare what you've just learned to the time-scale of the life of the Sun.
For advanced astro-fans, the CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background) Analyzer from NASA lets you explore the relationship between the age and other properties of the Universe. Can you discover how old the Universe is?
From the USGS, here's their Geologic Time: Online Edition
From the GSA, here's a PDF of their GSA Geologic Time Scale chart.
The following will help you enjoy this page's 1.6.x and 1.4.1 links that run events directly in CELESTIA. If you're new to the program, these tips will also help you learn to use it.
You'll find more information about many of CELESTIA's controls on our Learning Center page.
"From the infinitesimal to the infinite . . ."
SCALE OF THE COSMOS
Astronomy deals with concepts from the infinitesimal to (practically speaking) the infinite! The nuclei that power stars are so small, while galaxies and the filaments that contain their superclusters are so large, that they strain our abilities to comprehend their true dimensions! But here we will begin to try—with the help of two extraordinary tools:
Elsewhere on this page we'll also try to give you a sense of the scale of other objects that we all recognize, but which may be larger or smaller than you think!
SCALE OF THE OBSERVABLE UNIVERSE
From the famous Hubble Deep Field photograph , we now know that in the observable universe there are over 100 billion galaxies! To give us an appreciation of just how many galaxies that is, here is an excellent video from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey that accurately shows where 400,000 galaxies lie in relation to one another. However, this is only a tiny fraction of all galaxies! The Universe holds at least 250,000 times that number! And each galaxy is comprised of millions to trillions of stars!
SCALE OF THE MILKY WAY
Evidence indicates that our own galaxy the Milky Way is roughly 100,000 light-years across. This is immense by any earthly standards, and it is interesting to note that, even as late as the 1920's, the Milky Way was believed to constitute the entire Universe!
The ground-breaking observations of Edwin Hubble in the 1920's established conclusively that the Universe is far larger than was previously believed. (From the STSci's Amazing Space site, here's a short interactive feature that shows how Hubble's observations have helped us in Understanding the Size of the Universe.) Moreover, the satellite telescope named after him has shown that the Universe's true extent is so staggering that it is nearly unimaginable! Compared to a sphere with the diameter of the Milky Way, the volume of the known Universe is now believed to be at least 20 quadrillion times larger! That's a huge number: a 2 followed by sixteen zeroes (20,000,000,000,000,000)! In fact, this figure is among some of today's more conservative estimates! Some scientists maintain that the volume of the Universe is much larger even than this!
It seems almost ironic that the Milky Way, which is so large in its own right, has turned out to be such a small fraction of the cosmos!
Here's a link to a nice Flash demo from the Chandra site that begins to give you a good sense of the scale of our galaxy: Virtual Tour of the Milky Way.
Here's a link to an engrossing Chrome Experiment 3-D visualization. While it does not show our Solar System precisely, it does nicely show the scale of the cosmos from our Sun to the edge of the Milky Way. (Requires WebGL browser)
This video from NASA shows the Eventual Collision & Merging of the Milky Way with the Andromeda Galaxy.
SCALE OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM
From NASA / JPL-CalTech, here's a fascinating look at the scale of our Solar System. Note that the indicated scale is logrithmic. So, with the Sun at 0 (zero), then beyond 1 AU the distance marked off between any two adjacent numbers is 10 times greater than the distance marked off immediately before it! This allows the representation of incredibly vast distances in a limited amount of space.
And here is a great page whose intriguing graphic shows the scale of All (known) Bodies in Our Solar System Larger than 200 Miles in Diameter!
SCALE OF THE MAJOR PLANETS
Here's an interesting way of viewing the relative sizes of the planets. Note how small the Inner Planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth & Mars) are compared to the Outer Planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus & Neptune.)
Here's a link to a nice ONR interactive that compares the Sizes and Densities of the Major Planets.
Here's a NASA diagram that also shows the Relative Sizes of the Planets Compared to the Sun.
SCALE OF EARTH AND THE MOON
Even the two worlds that we consider the most familiar, Earth and the Moon, can surprise us when shown in the same relative scale! However, if you watch our video How Big Is Our Moon? it will help clear things up! (By the way, here's a hint: Earth and our Moon are shown in the same relative scale at the upper right of this page.)
SCALE OF THE ISS
The International Space Station
This enlightening image from NASA shows the scale of the ISS, the International Space Station. Is it larger or smaller than you thought? This is the largest structure ever assembled in space by humankind. To view in high resolution and save the high-res JPG, click here. And from ESA here is a high-res exploded view of the ISS.
SCALE OF THE HUBBLE AND THE
JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPES
This comparison really has us excited! Why? Because the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be able to peer deeper into the cosmos and therefore further back in time than Hubble. In fact, it will peer back over 275 million years closer to the Big Bang than Hubble can!
Hubble was about the size of an average school bus. In contrast, the James Webb Space Telescope will be more on the order of the size of a tennis court!
Scroll the image below to see how much further into space and time the JWST will peer, thereby increasing our understanding of the scale of the cosmos.
Scroll the image below to compare the electromagnetic wavelengths used by Hubble, the JWST and other satellites and observatories to study the cosmos.
For more info about the JWST, here is NASA's very nice 3-D Tour of the James Webb Space Telescope.
DIRECT LINKS TO OTHER SITES' MEDIA
RELATING TO THE SCALE OF THE COSMOS
Here's a nice little animation revealing the scale of the cosmos by showing how long it takes light to travel to various celestial objects: Distance in the Cosmos.
Just as important as the overall size of the cosmos is what "fills" it. From the Chandra site, here's a nice Flash demo that discusses how much Dark Energy and Dark Matter are now thought to exist: The Energy Distribution of the Universe.
This site includes one of the early videos highlighting the scale of the cosmos: Powers of 10 website.
Interested in political cartoons and humor?
Check out The HIPPLOMATS™.
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SCALE OF THE COSMOS
SKY-FUN / SKY-GAMES
FUN FACTS ABOUT THE
SCALE OF THE COSMOS
Currently accepted evidence overwhelmingly suggests that everything that makes up our known Universe was once contained in a space smaller than a quark!
The entire orbit of our Moon would fit inside the Sun with room to spare!
The ratio of the diameter of a proton to the diameter of a hydrogen atom (in a "ground state") is 1 to about 62,500! The ratio of the diameter of the Sun to the diameter of Neptune's orbit is 1 to only about 6,400!