The story of Hubble’s Deep Field image

The Hubble telescope’s Deep Field image from 1995 is one of the most important images in human history.

I’ve been fascinated by it since I first heard about it in a talk by the neuroscientist, David Eagleman. (Great talk. Add it to your must watch list.)

I regularly bring up the Hubble Deep Field image when I speak to audiences, especially high school students. It never fails to get a reaction when I tell the story then display the Deep Field slide. posted a video feature last week telling the story of how the Deep Field image was captured.

In an empty speck the size of a pinhead in the night sky Hubble found thousands of galaxies.

It showed us just how vast and gloriously, mysteriously interesting the universe is.

If you need a dose of perspective, look up into the night sky and see how small you are. But see also that you are part of — a wonderfully conscious part of — a grand universe filled with more to learn than we ever could in the limited time we have.


Kurzgesagt: The universe is crazy big

This video* is chock full of insights that clarify complicated concepts about the size of the universe.

And it’s a sobering reminder of just how small we are. The video points out that the local group of galaxies—that includes our Milky Way and the neighboring galaxies that are close enough to ever possibly consider exploring in some way—make up .00000000001 percent of the observable universe. The rest of the universe—basically all of it—will forever be beyond our reach.

In the very distant future, though, most galaxies will be so far from us that their light will never reach Earth. If humans are still here, or if intelligent life exists elsewhere, those future generations won’t see any signs of this vast universe that we know we inhabit.

How nice to be alive in a time of peak, supersize existential angst.

Kurzgesagt (which apparently means “in a nutshell” in German) is a brilliant YouTube channel that uses impeccably crafted, beautiful animated videos to explain science “in a nutshell”, as they say.

*via Kottke

Earth, early to the party

This is fascinating:

Earth came early to the party in the evolving universe. According to a new theoretical study, when our solar system was born 4.6 billion years ago only eight percent of the potentially habitable planets that will ever form in the universe existed. And, the party won’t be over when the sun burns out in another 6 billion years. The bulk of those planets – 92 percent – have yet to be born.

As old as the universe is—more than 13 billion years old—planets like ours are among the first of their kind. There are many, many more to come in the life of the universe.

How surreal to be an Earthling. Just ponder the scale of space and time and marvel at your place in it.

A billion years from now there may be no one here to discover if there’s anyone or anything else getting started out there on some young planet that may not even exist yet.

It’s good to be here now. It’s good to be anywhere at all.

To Scale: A short film to put you in your place

Those pictures of the solar system with all the planets lined up in the order of their orbits are nice ways to visualize where things are in general. But they are nowhere close to representing the true scale of the size of the solar system.

Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh made this amazing short film that actually shows the solar system to scale. They had to go to the desert and use seven miles of open land to put the sun and the orbits of the marble-sized earth and the other planets in their proper perspective.

Watching this film is seven minutes well spent. It’s a clever concept very well executed.

And it’s a great reminder of not only just how small we are (that seems to be a theme here) but also how we tend to underestimate the vast amounts of emptiness out there. Only a tiny portion of the universe is tangible.

It’s good to be here.

How wonderful to be anywhere at all.


Cassini, Saturn, Dione, and hope

NASA’s Cassini probe this week sent back stunning photos of Saturn’s moon, Dione, which is one of the 64 moons orbiting the crown jewel of the solar system. 

That thin black line behind Dione in the image above is the edge of Saturn’s rings. Amazing. 

We can fling a tiny piece of gadgetry a billion miles away and see what 2 million years of human existence couldn’t possibly imagine. Before this image I had never heard of this moon. 

For all our woes and inanities and immaturity as a species, achievements like this glimmer with hope for what we can do and be.