The vastness of the Universe surpasses even the most “drawn” science fiction


The outrageously vast size of the Universe that the human mind cannot comprehend and the challenge for scientists and science fiction writers to convey to us.

As an astrophysicist, I am always impressed by the fact that even the wildest science fiction stories tend to be clearly human in nature. No matter how exotic the place is or how unusual the scientific concepts are, most science fiction ends up dealing with essentially human (or anthropomorphic) interactions, problems, weaknesses, and challenges. This is what we are responding to. It’s what we can understand best. In practice, this means that most science fiction takes place in relatively “close” environments, on a planet or spaceship. The real challenge is to connect history with human emotions, human sizes and timelines, while still capturing the enormous scales of the Universe itself.

The actual size of the Universe will never fail to confuse us. We say that the observable Universe spans tens of billions of light years, but the only way to truly understand it, as humans, is to break things down in a series of steps, beginning with our comprehensible understanding of the size of the Earth. A direct flight from Dubai to San Francisco covers a distance of about 8,000 miles – about the diameter of the Earth. The Sun is much bigger. Its diameter is just over 100 times that of the Earth. And the distance between the Earth and the Sun is about 100 times longer than that, close to 100 million miles. This distance, the radius of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, is a fundamental measure in astronomy, the Astronomical Unit, or AU.The Voyager 1 spacecraft, for example, was launched in 1977 and, traveling at 11 miles per second, is now154 AU from the Sun.

But the stars are far beyond that. The nearest, Proxima Centauri, is about 270,000 AU, or 4.25 light-years away. You will need to line up 30 million Suns to bridge the gap between the Sun and Proxima Centauri. The Vogons in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979) are shocked that people have not traveled to the Proxima Centauri system to see the Earth disaster alert. The funny thing is that the distance is incredibly long.

Four light years turns out to be about the average distance between the stars of our Galaxy, of which the Sun is a member. This is a very empty space! Our galaxy contains about 300 billion stars, in a huge structure about 100,000 light-years in diameter. One of the truly fascinating discoveries of the last two decades is that our Sun is by no means unique in hosting a sequence of planets: the evidence shows that most of the Sun-like stars in our Galaxy have planets orbiting them, many with size and distance from their parent star allowing them to host life as we know it.

However, getting to these planets is another matter: Voyager 1 would reach Proxima Centauri in 75,000 years if it traveled in the right direction – which it does not. Science fiction writers use a variety of tricks to cover these interstellar distances: putting their passengers in motion-suspended mode during long journeys or traveling near the speed of light (to take advantage of the time-lapse expansion in theory). by Albert Einstein on special relativity). Λούν invoke deformation units, wormholes or other phenomena that have not yet been discovered.

When astronomers made the first definitive measurements of the scale of our Galaxy a century ago, they were shocked by the size of the Universe they had mapped. Initially, there was widespread skepticism that the so-called “spiral nebulae” seen in photographs of the sky were in fact “island universes” – structures as large as our own galaxy, but at much greater distances. While the vast majority of science fiction stories remain in our Galaxy, much of the history of the last 100 years of astronomy has been the discovery of how much larger the Universe is. Our nearest galactic neighbor is about 2 million light-years away, while light is one of the farthest galaxies our telescopes can see.travels to us most of the age of the Universe, about 13 billion years.

We discovered in the 1920s that the Universe was expanding by the Big Bang. But about 20 years ago, astronomers discovered that this expansion was accelerating, driven by a force whose material nature we do not understand, but which we call “dark energy.” Dark energy works on scales of length and time of the Universe as a whole: how could we capture such a concept in a piece of fiction?

The story does not stop there. We can not see galaxies from those parts of the Universe for which not enough time has passed since the Big Bang for light to reach us. What is beyond the observable limits of the Universe? Our simplest cosmological models suggest that the Universe is uniform in its properties on larger scales and extends forever. A different idea states that the Big Bang that gave birth to our Universe is just one of the (possibly infinite) number of such explosions, and that the resulting “multiverse” extends beyond our comprehension.

The American astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson once said: “The Universe has no obligation to make sense to you.” Likewise, the wonders of the Universe have no obligation to make it easier for science fiction writers to tell stories about them. The Universe is mostly empty space and the distances between the stars in the galaxies and between the galaxies of the Universe are incomprehensibly huge on human scales. Capturing the true scale of the Universe, while somehow connected to human endeavors and emotions, is a terrifying challenge for any science fiction writer. Olaf Stapleton took on this challenge in Star Maker (1937), a novel in which the stars and nebulae, and the universe as a whole, are conscious.While we are humbled by our tiny size in relation to the universe, our brain can not, however, comprehend, to some extent, how large the Universe we inhabit. This is encouraging, as Columbia University astrobiologist Caleb Scharf put it: “In a finite world, a cosmic perspective is not a luxury, it is a necessity.” Communicating this to the public is the real challenge facing astronomers as well as science fiction is a necessity. “Communicating this to the public is the real challenge facing astronomers as well as science fiction is a necessity. “Communicating this to the public is the real challenge facing astronomers as well as science fiction writers.

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