Mapping the Sky: A journey to the edge of the Universe.

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!

Photo from the ISS at 248 miles above Earth (NASA.gov)

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!

NASA new released photo of the ‘Pale Blue Dot’ – Earth from 3.7 billion miles away

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.

Depiction of the Milky Way Galaxy and our location in the Spiral Arm.

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.

ESO photo of the spiral sky 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.

Andromeda – 2.5 million light years away

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.

Millions of stars located in a small area in the Spiral Arm of Andromeda

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.

The Hubble Deep Field (Nasa.gov)

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.

Local Cluster of galaxies near the Milky Way

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.

The Laniakea Cluster

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.

Actual simulation of our position in the Universe (Virgo Consortium)

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.

At this distance, our Supercluster of galaxies cannot be distinctively viewed.

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.

The Virgo Consortium – a Cosmological Supercomputer Simulation of the observable universe

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?

Depiction of the 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.

The Sun- 1 of 100 thousand million stars in the Milky Way

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!

YOU ARE 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!

References:

Andromeda Galaxy: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2017/messier-31-the-andromeda-galaxy

CERN: https://home.cern/science/physics/dark-matter

Dark Matter: https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-is-dark-energy

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

Laniakea Supercluster: https://physicsworld.com/a/how-flowing-galaxies-revealed-the-immensity-of-the-laniakea-supercluster/

MPC/h Explanation: https://www.astro.ljmu.ac.uk/~ikb/research/h-units.html

Photo Credit:

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

Comments

  1. Natasha Little
    January 19, 2021 / 6:53 am

    I absolutely love that we are apart of this beautiful atmosphere/universe. Thanks for the read very insightful.

    • January 19, 2021 / 5:57 pm

      Why thank you young lady. I appreciate you reading the post. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *