Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Sense of Perspective

Again, just a brief note, because sometimes it's a good thing to sit back and adjust your sense of perspective.  Carl Sagen did that so beautifully in Pale Blue Dot--the only science book that made me cry.  The title describes what the Earth looks like from the perspective of Voyager I at the edge of the solar system.  We live, in Dr. Sagan's unforgettable words, on "a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."

The link below (and down in the links column) will give you some nice, shivery, perspective on the size of our Sun:

Scroll down slowly, so's to get the full effect:))


  1. "Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space."

    Here's another one about perspective. Can't remember where I got it from, but:

    Draw a line a metre long, and mark one millimetre off. That's (obviously) a thousandth. Now try to mark a millionth. You can't, practicably. But consider that to make a millionth the same size as that thousandth, you'd have to stretch the line until it was one kilometre long. That's how mind-bogglingly big a million is.

  2. Ah Douglas, nobody puts things into perspective the way you did:)

    Marking off a millimeter on a line one meter long--I am *so* doing that with my kids! Doh! I never thought of that, but what an easy way to give *them* a sense of how big a thousand, or a million is.

  3. With national debts being measured in trillions these days, even giving a grasp of millions pales slightly. And the ease-of-grasp fails somewhat if you scale it up that far. Scary!

    I've been thinking, and I *may* have got that method from Kitty Ferguson's 'Measuring the Universe: Our Historic Quest to Chart the horizons of Space and Time'. Covers much the same ground as the Tim Ferris one, but gives a different angle on odd bits of it. It's an enjoyable (and shorter) read if you don't mind going over what you already know. And any subject that covers people losing noses in duels, mule-drovers who become leading scientific figures and the name Annie Jump Cannon (always makes me grin. Who names their offspring 'jump' fer Bog's sake?) is always worth a re-read, I reckon.

  4. "With national debts being measured in trillions these days..."--my imagination fails. No wonder national debts are so high--politicians literally have no idea how much money they're dealing with. The human mind is notoriously bad at geometric progression, isn't it:)) You know, I "know" the answer to that problem about the grains of rice on the chess board, but I'm still surprised every time I hear the answer (or work it out).

    Ooooh--want the Ferguson book! I don't mind too much reading books that cover the same ground. I find, generally, that every writer has a slightly different way of explaining that clarifies just a bit further for me. I figure that if I can understand (and explain to somebody else) three different explanations of a particular idea, then I must at least have a decent grasp of it.

    Annie Jump Cannon is *awesome* and should be in every science book--her work was simply amazing. And she (and the other women astronomers) were at first paid less than the university secretaries (at Harvard). Da noive!
    Had to Wiki to see why her middle name is Jump--as I suspected, it's her mother's maiden name. I kinda like her name--makes her sound like a rootin' tootin' cowgirl. Which, in a way, I suppose she was--yee haw! 230,000 stars catalogued by the Space Cowgirl! Go Annie! Why doesn't every girl in America know this woman's name?