Friday, February 10, 2006

The silence

In a comment of few days ago, Paul mentioned a close-up, blown-up view of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field Photo at the Boston Scuence Museum. Here it is:

Go out at night and hold up two crossed sewing pins at arm's length against an absolutely starless part of the sky. The area of the sky covered by the intersection of the two pins is the field covered by the photograph.

What you are seeing in the photograph, as Paul said, are not stars but galaxies -- 10,000 of them -- colossal systems of hundreds of billions of stars, presumably with planets. (On the linked photograph you can probably pick out a few star images, stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy that just happen to lie along the same line of sight.)

To make this photograph, the Hubble Space Telescope soaked up light from the chosen part of the sky for a total of 278 hours, over the course of 400 orbits around the Earth. You are looking at some of the most distant objects ever seen, some of them as they were less than 1 billion years after the big bang.

Remember, the telescope could have been pointed at any speck of sky, in any direction, and the view would have been much the same. It would take 20,000 photographs like this just to cover the bowl of the Big Dipper.

Anyone who doesn't take this information on board when asking the BIG questions -- Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? -- is missing something important.