Start the new year by realizing how insignificant we are

For all our abilities, humans are puny creatures on the scale of space. The Universe we exist in is just too vast and beyond our intuitive contemplation. As we start the new year with wishes and resolutions, here is a size comparison of our Earth to things in the Universe. It should help us remember just how insignificant we really are.

Here is Earth compared to Jupiter, the largest planet of our solar system.

Earth compared to Jupiter and its largest storm, the Great Red Spot. Credit: Brian0918 / NASA

The largest storm on Jupiter, the Great Red Spot, is as big as Earth. Jupiter is so big in fact that it can easily contain about 1300 Earths inside it.

Now here’s Earth and Jupiter compared to our Sun.

Earth and Jupiter compared to the Sun, with a solar prominence visible at the bottom left. Credit: NASA SDO

Our Sun frequently emits material out of it in the form of energetic flares. Some of these solar flares are larger than both Earth and Jupiter.

A solar filament compared to the Earth.
Comparison of the Earth to a highly energetic flare from the Sun. Credit: NASA SDO

And the Sun isn’t even among the largest stars of the galaxy. Here is a comparison of the Sun with two larger stars belonging to the category of red giants––Arcturus and Antares.

The Sun (top right) compared to red giant stars Arcturus and Antares. Credit: Sakurambo

Antares is so huge that if the Sun were to be replaced by it, it would engulf Mars. But there are stars in the Universe that are even bigger than Antares!

Here is a comparison of the Sun with one of the largest known stars in the galaxy, VY Canis Majoris.

Red hypergiant star VY Canis Majoris compared to our puny Sun. Credit: Oona Räisänen

The Sun is not even visible at this scale. So much for us thinking we are special. It doesn’t help further that the Sun is just one of the over 200 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy.

Artist’s conception of the Milky Way galaxy. Credit: Nick Risinger / NASA

At the scale of a galaxy, each star is but a mere little dot. Around these hundreds of billions of little dots lie probably just as many planetary systems like our own.

Our search for exoplanets in the galaxy has barely begun and yet we’ve already found more than 4000 planetary systems till date. Credit: Hubble

And yet, our galaxy is just one of the billions and billions of galaxies in the observable Universe, as revealed to us by space telescopes like NASA Hubble.

The Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF) view showing thousands of young galaxies in a patch of the sky smaller than the angular diameter of the Moon. Credit: Hubble (1, 2)

Mind = blown?

Wait till you see how our Milky Way compares to one of the largest known galaxies.

One of the largest known galaxies, IC 1101, compared to our Milky Way. Credit: Jatan Mehta, edited from danismart’s post

Our galaxy is dwarfed by the colossal size of IC 1101. Such supermassive galaxies, for the lack of a better word, typically host supermassive black holes at their centers. Here is one of the largest known black holes compared to our solar system.

One of the largest known black holes compared to our solar system. Credit: Jatan Mehta, released under CC BY-SA 4.0.

If the magnificence of the Universe doesn’t intimidate you, terrify you and leave you in awe, I don’t know what will.

Start the new year by realizing how insignificant we are!

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2 thoughts on “Start the new year by realizing how insignificant we are”

  1. Vatsal Guruvayurappan

    I have always read on and off, in a vague fashion, about the significance of the universe, or ‘our’ universe. I don’t even know whether to say ‘the’ or ‘our’, after reading this article. It’s like it just makes me feel curious and visualize whatever is possibly out there. If it is even ours, or part of a bigger , inexpressible concept.
    We encounter ‘problems’ daily…but after reading this article, it makes me wonder why I even expend so much energy worrying about the little things, when I am so bloody insignificant anyways, that I might as well live my life in the best and craziest possible ways. Do something really worthwhile instead.

    Everyday at least one human is wiped off this planet Earth, and apart from the near and dear ones, it probably does not even matter a bit to the universe around.

    This article, is described just nicely with good illustrations.
    It makes me visualize much more to the ‘limits’ of my imagination.

    Thank you for the read. Happy 2020.