Welcome back Family. Today, I will be taking you on a journey to the edge of the universe. As we travel outward, we will look back towards the Earth to see how small we look from millions and trillions of miles away. Before we launch into the Cosmos, let’s make a stop at the International Space Station located 248 miles above the Earth. I hope you’re not afraid of heights!
The International Space Station is currently traveling 15,500 mph around the planet! I’m sure the speed of the ISS is a bit difficult to comprehend but, in order for us to reach our final destination we need to travel much faster than that. Hang on tight as we transport ourselves 3.7 billion miles away from Earth! Yes, billion!
Can you still see the Earth from here? There it is. The little blue dot bathing in the sun beam. We look so tiny from here. In 1977, NASA’s Voyager 1 probe was launched from Earth, heading towards interstellar space (outside the solar system). On February 4, 1990, the probe reached a distance of 3.7 billion miles from the Earth. Scientist programmed the probe to point its camera back towards Earth and it captured the photo shown above known as the “Pale Blue Dot”.
Now, let’s leave interstellar space and go outside of our galaxy. No space probe has reached this distance but, using high powered telescopes and supercomputer calculation power, we are able to depict the size and shape of our own galaxy.
Wow! Look at that! The Milky Way Galaxy in its entirety. It’s going to be impossible to see the Earth from this far away. Every light you see in the photo above is an individual star, similar to our Sun. The large swirl you see in the middle contains extremely hot dust, gas, and millions of new and old stars. Scientists estimate that our galaxy (the milky way) consists of 100 thousand million stars! It may be hard to wrap your head around that number but, if you think of all the grains of sand, on every beach in the world, it may possibly add up to the amount of stars in our own galaxy.
How do we know our Star, the Sun, and the Earth is located in one of the galaxy’s spiral arms? Take a look at the photo below taken by the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere. It captured a brilliant photo of our galaxy’s spiral arm from Earth.
Now that we’ve made it outside of our galaxy, let’s visit our next door neighbor Andromeda. Andromeda is mind boggling 2.5 light-years away from the Milky Way galaxy but, it’s our galactic next door neighbor.
Wow! Andromeda. We are now looking at 250 billion stars! Could there be Earth like planets hidden within the galaxy? Using state of the art telescopes, scientist have recently discovered over 300 extra-solar planets in the Andromeda galaxy. It also has massive spiral arms that contain millions and millions of stars. Let’s travel closer to one of the outer arms to get a glimpse of the stars.
Although we could gaze at Andromeda for hours, we need to keep moving outward in order to reach the edge of the universe. Before we leave, let’s take a look around to see what’s out there.
What are all the lights you see out in the distance? Every light (large and small) is an individual galaxy! The photo above is known as the Hubble Deep Field. In 1995, the Hubble telescope stared at a tiny and empty patch of sky near the Big Dipper. After 10 straight days of imaging, the telescope gathered all the light it could, slowly building the photo above. The photo shows approximately 10,000 galaxies! Out of the 10,000 galaxies shown in the photo, could one or more contain some type of intelligent life? There’s so many galaxies surrounding us, we must go out even farther to reach the edge.
Whoa! We are now so far away from Earth we can see clusters of galaxies. The local supercluster is considered to be our ‘local’ community of galaxies. We are located in the Virgo Cluster which can be seen in the upper right-hand side of the photo. The galaxies seen in the Hubble Deep Field photo was taken by pointing the telescope at the Ursa Major Cluster located under the Virgo Cluster. From this distance, every light we see is a galaxy. You may notice some galaxies are clustered together while other maintain ‘social distancing’. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is just one of the bright dots located in the Virgo Cluster. Let’s keep pushing outward to see what’s outside our local group of galaxies.
Wow! What we are viewing now is called The Laniakea Cluster. From this distance, we can see 250 million light-year across. So many galaxy clusters are surrounding us. What a beautiful site. Let’s head out deeper into cosmos. I can feel we are getting close to the edge.
Now that we have reached this distance, we can see massive amounts of galaxies bound together by a force known as Dark Matter. The variation of light you see in the photo above consist of billions of galaxies. We are now reaching the edge of the observable universe. Hang on as we head to the farthest limits.
We are now viewing what is known as the ‘cosmic web’! What a beautiful gathering of galaxies and dark matter. Our supercluster is barely visible from this distance.
We finally made it! The edge of the observable universe. Every light in the photo above is a cluster of galaxies. Who would have known that we were a part of something so magical?! Scientist have determined the ‘observable universe’ is only one percent of the Universe’s actual size. Our position in the Universe and telescopes only allow us to see out this far. This means what we see at this distance is only a portion of the universal grand design! We are unsure what resides outside the observable universe. Could there be multiple universe out there? Is it possible we live in a Multiverse?
We live in a Universe of infinite galaxies. You are a part of an infinite and glorious system. No words can explain the beauty and vast distances of what we call the Universe. After taking this journey, we can now understand that anyone who lives in this galactic system must be special. Our star, the Sun is only one star in an infinite amount of stars.
In spite of our differences, we all have a lot in common. We are all residence of the Milky Way galaxy. We are all members of the Virgo Cluster. We are all members of the Laniakea Supercluster. We are all members of the Cosmic Web. We are all members of the UNIVERSE!
Share your thoughts in the comment section below. Take a look at this cool video by NASA Hubble Telescope showing the Hubble Deep Field: https://youtu.be/yfWYXY85mBk
I would love to hear if this journey has changed your perspective on your position in the Universe. Don’t forget to subscribe for the newest post!
Hubble Deep Field Images: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/multimedia/index.html
International Space Station: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/facts-and-figures
Pale Blue Dot (photo credit): https://www.businessinsider.com/nasa-voyager-pale-blue-dot-photo-30th-anniversary-2020-2
MPC/h Explanation: https://www.astro.ljmu.ac.uk/~ikb/research/h-units.html
NASA JPL: https://www.nasa.gov/
Millennium Simulation: https://wwwmpa.mpa-garching.mpg.de/galform/virgo/millennium/’
International Space Station: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html