Right, so since I’ve got a bit of time on my hands I’ve decided to put my science background and my grade C at higher English to good use – and do a bit of science journalism! We will soon find out whether this is a good idea or not, but a bit like Schrodinger’s Cat we will not know which one until it is finished and on the web. And there is my first science joke………….hang on as this could get out of control! Or maybe not.
So let’s start with the largest object in the known Universe – U1.27 – which was only discovered last week. Now, due to the ingenious way that scientists name newly discovered objects I’m sure you can instantly tell what it is……No?, Really?, Isn’t it obvious? Well it’s actually a big group of large quasers, so it has become known as the Huge Large Quaser Group or LQG for short, and a representation is posted below. Thankfully the people who name stellar objects were not about during the Greek and Roman philosopher era, otherwise instead of a solar system full of planets like Mercury, Mars and Jupiter we could have had S-S57 filled with objects like M-1, M-4 and J-5 – boring!
So what is a quasar then? Well a quick look at my old astronomy notes tells me that a quasar is a very energetic and distant active galactic nucleus, but which has similar properties to stars rather than galaxies, and the Huge LQG is made up of a lot of them – 73 to be precise. Now, I have always had a fascination with the size of the universe. To quote the Hitchhikers Guide – “Space is big. Really big. You won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind bogglingly big it is. And so on.”
I have always had an idea of how far away all the stars in the sky are from us, but I do remember in one of the first lectures of university being told that some of those dots in the sky that I thought were just the light of individual stars, were in fact the merged light of thousands of stars together.
And at that point my head exploded.
So I thought I would give you an idea of how big this Quaser Group actually is. Officially it is about 1,200 Megaparsecs wide.
Despite what Stars Wars would have you believe, a parsec is not a unit of time but a unit of distance (famously the Millenium Falcon apparently did the kessel run in under 12 parsecs – idiots!). A parsec is about 206,000 A.U, where an A.U is the unit of distance between the Earth and the Sun, which is about 149,603,500km!
So already you can gauge the kind of size we are talking about, but I am going to go further!
Doing the full conversion from Megaparsecs to kilometres – and you’ll be glad to know I won’t show you the calculations – the length end to end of the Huge LQG is in fact about 3.6×10^22km wide.
Written out fully it is about 36,000,000,000,000,000,000,000km. So it is tiny yeah? Edinburgh to Glasgow is just 74km! If you were to travel from one end to the other at the speed of light – the fastest speed anything can go at – then it would take you 4 billion years. That is in the Huge LQG, not Edinburgh to Glasgow!
So space is quite big then. A good video that emphasizes the size of the universe is this one about the size of stars: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEheh1BH34Q&fmt=22&fmt=18
Check it out….