This logarithmic view of the universe will blow your mind

There is still a long way to go from Earth to the edge of the universe.

Artist’s concept of a log scale of the observable universe. The solar system gave way to the Milky Way, which gave way to nearby galaxies, which gave way to large-scale structures and the hot, dense plasma of the outer Big Bang. Every line of sight we can observe contains all of these epochs, but the search for the most distant observed objects won’t be complete until we map out the entire universe.

(Source: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

Our seemingly gigantic tiny homeworld is only 12,742 kilometers (7,917 miles) wide.

This image taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Karen Nyberg in 2013 shows the two largest islands in the southern part of the Mascarin Plateau: Reunion in the foreground and Mauritius, partly covered in clouds . To observe humans on Earth from the height of the International Space Station requires a Hubble-sized telescope. The scale of human beings is less than 1/5,000,000 of the earth, but the earth is just a drop of water in the cosmic ocean, with a diameter of only over 10,000 kilometers.

(Credit: NASA/Karen Nyberg)

We usually think linearly: the sun is about 10,000 times the diameter of the earth.

The orbits of the planets in the inner solar system are not exactly circular, but they are very close, with Mercury and Mars having the largest deviation and the largest ellipticity. On these “scaled” distance scales, individual planets, even the sun, occupy only one pixel. In many ways, linear scales are not a bad choice for depicting depth in space.

(Source: NASA/JPL)

But in the universe, the logarithmic scale—where each multiplicative factor of “10” defines another mark on the scale of our universe—serves us better.

At nearly 13,000 kilometers (8,000 miles) in diameter, the Earth is tiny compared to the cosmic distance between the Earth and the Moon, or even more spectacularly, the Earth and the Sun. But log scales give us a very different perspective, enabling us to compute different distance scales within a single visual image.

(Source: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

On a logarithmic scale, the Sun, Mercury, and Mars are effectively equidistant.

Oort Cloud

Compared to the extent of the Oort Cloud, the inner solar system, which includes planets, asteroids, gas giants, the Kuiper Belt, and more, is insignificant in scale. Sedna is the only large object with a far aphelion, and it may be the innermost part of the Inner Oort Cloud, but even that is controversial. On a linear scale, depicting the entire solar system in a single image is very limited.

(Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt)

Another factor of the distance of about 10,000 brings us to the Oort Cloud.

In the solar system, we usually measure distances in astronomical units (AU), where the Earth is 1 AU from the sun. Mercury and Mars are about 1 AU from Earth, Saturn is about 10 AU, the Kuiper Belt ends before about 100 AU, and the Oort Cloud mainly exists at about 10,000 AU. That’s a huge distance on a linear scale, but only a fraction “10 times” on a log scale.

(Source: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

A brief log jump takes us from the solar system to the stars.

This long-exposure image captures many bright stars, star-forming regions, and the plane of the Milky Way above the ALMA Observatory in the southern hemisphere. The nearest star is only a few light-years away: less than 10 times from the edge of the Oort cloud. However, more distant stars and features that are still visible to the naked eye may be tens of thousands of light-years away.

(Source: ESO/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org))

Many of the brightest stars in Earth’s sky are less than 1,000 light-years away.

Many of the brightest stars near Earth are members of the Orion Arm, itself a small offshoot of the Milky Way’s larger and grander Perseus Arm. These arms, from the nearest star a few light-years away to thousands of light-years away, represent just three factors of “10” on a logarithmic scale.

(Source: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

Another small log jump takes us to the nearest spiral arm.

Gaia’s all-sky view of our Milky Way and neighboring galaxies. These maps show the total brightness and color of stars (top), the total density of stars (middle), and the interstellar dust that fills the Milky Way (bottom). Note that, on average, there are about 10 million stars per square degree, but some regions, such as the galactic plane or the center of the galaxy, have star densities much higher than the overall average.

(Source: ESA/Gaia/DPAC)

On top of that, there’s the complete local galaxy.

The Perseus spiral arms lead to the full-scale Milky Way, and the other galaxies in the Local Group are only “10” times beyond the full-scale Milky Way. Another factor of over 10 times takes us to large galaxy clusters, even close to the nearest ones.

(Source: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

Soon, neighboring galaxies became ubiquitous.

Our local supercluster, Laniakea, contains the Milky Way, our local cluster, the Virgo cluster, and many smaller clusters and clusters of galaxies in the suburbs, including the M81 cluster. However, each group and cluster is bound only to itself, and will be separated from the others due to dark energy and our expanding universe. In 100 billion years, even the closest galaxies outside our Local Group will be about a billion light-years away, making them thousands or even millions of times dimmer than the closest galaxies that appear today.

(Image credit: Andrew Z. Colvin/Wikimedia Commons)

Subsequent cosmic steps revealed massive galaxy agglomerations.

A factor of just a few “10s” in the logarithmic distance separates the nearest galaxies (located hundreds of thousands to millions of light-years away) from massive cluster features on the scale of hundreds of millions or possibly billions of light-years. At these scales, the largest boundary features of the universe begin to emerge.

(Source: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

Eventually, the largest structure was revealed: the gigantic cosmic web.

The growth of the cosmic web and the large-scale structure in the universe, the expansion shown here itself is expanding outward, as the universe becomes more condensed and condensed over time. Initially small density fluctuations develop into a cosmic web with large gaps separating them, but it appears that the largest wall-like and supercluster-like structures may not be true, bound structures because of late dark energy Drive them apart.

(Credit: Volker Springer/MPE)

Many of these features are just obvious: dark energy can tear these fake structures apart.

The largest features seen here, such as the “Great Wall” and the “Large Quasar Group,” may not be cosmologically bound structures, but rather obvious pseudostructures that, due to their accumulated mass, are not sufficiently gravitationally bound to bind them. On the largest cosmic scales, dark energy will dissipate everything.

(Source: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

At the limit of the universe, the edge of time is revealed: the earliest moments after the hot Big Bang.

not reachable

Surveys of our deepest galaxies can reveal objects tens of billions of light-years away, but even with ideal technology, there will be large distance gaps between the most distant galaxies and the Big Bang. At some point, our instruments simply won’t be able to reveal them all, and the gap between the emission of the cosmic microwave background and the formation of the first stars will finally reveal to us unequivocally.

(Source: Sloan Digital Sky Survey)

Thanks to artist Pablo Carlos Budassi for creating this beautifully illustrated tour of the universe.

This vertical logarithmic map of the universe spans nearly 20 orders of magnitude, taking us from Earth to the edge of the visible universe. Each large “mark” on the right scale bar corresponds to a 10-fold increase in the distance scale.

(Source: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in pictures, visuals and in no more than 200 words. Talk less; laugh more.

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