Archive for June, 2012

A rather fascinating animation of, well, the whole universe can be found by clicking here or on the picture above. It’s a rare day when you can learn so much by just scrolling your mouse wheel or sliding the slider button at the bottom of the picture you’ll see there. This will take you from the teensy tiny (more accurately, the teensy teensy teensy and then some tiny) to the far reaches of the universe (more accurately, the place where it would be handy to have read this book if you’re hungry at the time because yelp doesn’t cover this area — yet).

Here are a few highlights among many things you can learn.

Yoctometers are the smallest unit of measurement that folks have bothered to define, at 10-24 meters (yocto is a trillionth of a trillionth). That’s roughly the size of a neutrino (the low energy ones) although that may be wildly off and they may actually be two or three yoctometers across. If you’re not familiar with these tiny particles, they are: super small, super lightweight, uncharged, and therefore super reluctant (in a human sense) to interact with anything. And just as you should not worry when you hear a pilot say, “There is no cause for alarm,” so you should not worry about the following fact. If you stand up straight and face the sun (the source of most of the neutrinos around here), there will be about 500 trillion neutrinos zipping through your body every second. Actually it doesn’t matter if you’re facing the sun, the same is true if you do this at night since the neutrinos zip right through the earth to get to you even in the dark. If this bothers you, then roll up in a ball and then only about half that many neutrinos will be flying through you every second.

At the other extreme, the ‘yotta’ prefix in yottameter means there are 1024 of them (a trillion trillion). A yottameter is about 100 million light years long, and don’t forget that a light year is a distance, not a time (it’s how far light travels in a year if it doesn’t stop off for a smoke now and then). The universe passed the yottameter mark a long time ago and is now closer to 500 yottameters across. While we don’t really know quite where it all ends, we have a good idea that the universe is expanding at a faster and faster rate. We are living in a good time to be able to see it all; in the distant distant future, we would not be able to see as far across the universe anymore because of this increasing expansion rate.

If you can’t remember whether yoctometer or yottameter is the big one, just use this handy rhyme: Yotta is a lotta. In other words, it’s the big one. Simple.

Rotten Egg Nebula

There is plenty of interesting things sized between a yoctometer and a yottameter — such as most everything you can think of. Including shrews, thankfully. And the rotten egg nebula. If you look closely at a picture of the rotten egg nebula, you will quickly be amazed at how anyone could ever be crazy enough to select such a name for it. But as it turns out, it’s not named for its shape, it’s named for its smell (from the sulfur). Ah, that makes more sense. Astronomers smelled it even though it’s 5000 light years away.

Remember: There is yada yada yada between yocto and yotta.

Scaled so the ring is 1/25 of an inch across;
the gray circle is as small as the unaided eye can see.


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