Finale – Culminate Post

An artist’s concept of our Solar System. The lines emanating from Earth represent the missions we’ve sent out.
Source: NASA/Jenny Mottar

I learned much more than I thought I would in this course. Before taking this class, all I really knew about our solar system was that there are 8 planets (and Earth is the third one), the asteroid belt is a thing, Jupiter is big, and Saturn is the planet with pretty rings. I didn’t know everything in space was so far apart (even our moon is much farther than I thought it was). I had no idea Venus was such a hot, cloudy, and fascinating hellscape. I didn’t know the asteroid belt was so much calmer than how it’s portrayed in movies. I wasn’t aware that the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud even existed. I didn’t know Jupiter and Saturn were basically the same size/radius (I always thought Jupiter was bigger). I didn’t know comets had two tails. I didn’t know Jupiter has a volcanic moon that spews sulphurous gas into space. I didn’t know Saturn had a moon that spouts geysers of ice into space. There was just so many interesting things this class taught me about all the worlds and objects in our solar system and throughout the rest of space. It all made me excited about the possibility of expanding/improving space travel so we can learn even more about the things farther away from us.

The only reason I regret taking this class this semester is because I liked it so much. I sincerely wish I had more time here to take more astronomy classes and learn more and more about what we know of space and everything in it. At the same time, I’m glad to have taken this class my last semester as an undergraduate because it’s been one of my favorite classes I’ve taken here. I actually learned a lot of interesting things, and this class was fun. It felt like a great way to finish up my time here.

The Size of the Universe, Relative to the Size of a Picnicker

Powers of Ten, the video I discuss below

The video begins with a man and a woman out on a picnic, then begins zooming out farther and farther. They start with a focus image 1 x 1 meter wide, then zoom out to a field of vision 10 times larger every ten seconds. So, the first zoom out brings the image to 10m x 10m, then 100m x 100 m, and so on. At 10 million x 10 million meters, the entire earth is enclosed in the square, then at 1,000 million x 1,000 million meters, the orbit of the moon around earth is encompassed as well. At the 1 million million meters (1012) square, the sun and the four rocky planets are within view, and by the next zoom out (1013), the entire solar system is inside the box (save for a clip of Pluto’s orbit). At 100,000 light years (1021), most of the Milky Way galaxy is in the box. The farthest they zoom out is to 100 million light years (1024), at which point our own Milky Way galaxy cannot be seen. The galaxies and galaxy clusters in view are spread out, barely visible dots on the screen. The rest of the video zooms back in, all the way down to the picnickers, and then farther to a subatomic level.

What struck me about this video is just how small it made me feel. It reminded me of what Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson spoke of in the foreword of our textbook, about the Hayden Planetarium’s “Passport to the Universe” show. This video is essentially a less encompassing version of what he described there. Having said that, the video is still completely captivating. It’s hard not to be drawn in. As the camera zoomed out, I just felt smaller and smaller, more and more insignificant. While I understand that this could sound a little depressing, I found myself getting more and more excited the smaller I felt. The simplest way to explain my stance is this: The universe is huge, and I am tiny. That means there’s so much for me to learn about and explore in all the vast open space around the miniscule portion that I occupy. Humans are insignificant little specs of stardust in the grand scheme of things, but that just means there’s a lot to discover and we have a lot more exploring to do. Although this class only addresses the confines of our own Solar System, it’s a great starting point for someone like me with no past formal education about anything space related. Suffice to say, it made me all the more excited to keep learning about everything this class has to offer.