OT: The Universe

Gift article from the Times on the James Webb telescope and the universe. Some stunning photography and explanations.





That’s astounding, humbling, and redefining space and time. Wow.

It is estimated that there are a minimum of 200 billion galaxies (max 2 trillion) in the observable universe. Lord knows how many more there are out there. Our average sized galaxy is estimated to have 100 billion stars.

Amazingly, life (notice I didn’t say intelligent life; the jury is still out) only formed on 1 planet, the 3rd rock orbiting an average star.

And I thought winning the lotto was long odds.

Shifting away from my normal sarcasm, thank you for posting. Fascinating.

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It could also be that life formed on a million planets … just way too far away from each other to ever have an encounter. If sentient life forms, then evolves repeatedly, and then dies out over, say, 50M years but on average it takes 200M years for one to reach another, then there possibly will never be any encounters. By the time one life form gets moving in the right direction, it runs out of time before it will go extinct. Maybe some sort of AI sent by a much older life form, long extinct, might someday reach another current life form. But even then, the odds of the current life form understanding anything at all is very low (remember the period of time that advanced life forms are sentient and sufficiently advanced may be short).


In the last half century or so, some major discoveries about the nature of the universe have occurred. But these discoveries have resulted in more questions than answers. Perhaps the biggest, most revolutionary developments have been in identifying what astronomers call dark matter and dark energy.

According to current theories, dark matter makes up most of the mass of the universe, yet they don’t know what it is. It isn’t regular matter that we just can’t see with a telescope. Dark matter apparently doesn’t interact with regular matter, or with the electromagnetic force, which is supposed to be impossible. But it apparently does interact with the gravity force.

Even weirder is what scientists call dark energy. Around the year 2000, astronomers discovered that the universe is not only expanding (which had been observed for several decades), but the expansion is actually accelerating. Again, this is supposed to be impossible. What could cause the galaxies to expand away from each other at ever increasing rates? Astronomers don’t know, but they call this dark energy, mainly as a place-holder I think, since they don’t know what else to call it.

The more we learn, the more we understand we don’t know. That’s the way science advances. Maybe the investigation into dark energy will eventually result in some clean, cheap, unlimited energy source that can be harnessed for electricity generation, for instance?

  • Pete

You are quite an optimist. At the rate we’re ravaging the planet and/or accumulating atomic weapons, we’ll be lucky to make it another couple hundred years.

The ability to produce - and receive - data from another planet is probably 1 millionth of the planet’s lifetime; we’ve only been able to do it for 100 years or so. The chances that two planets, located closely enough to actually send and receive those signals, have that capability at the same time is vanishingly small. I suspect it will never happen, but I also suspect there are hundreds and thousands and possibly millions of places where life has evolved. “Almost infinity” is about as inconceivable as infinity itself.


Last time I attended a Caltech lecture on cosmology the introductory comment was (quoting from baffled and delighted memory)

We must accept that what we call “dark matter” and “dark energy” are simply primitive accountings of how profoundly we do not understand the universe and its logically antecedent Reality.


As horrible as our geo-political-ecological state is, it is a wondrous time to be alive and literate.

david fb

(I have been going to the Caltech Alumni Day lectures [Dad got his PhD there in 1948] since I was 7 years old. Only the backcountry of the Sierra Nevada is more Alma Mater to me than those few blocks of Pasadena.)


David, if I ever make it to one I will have to look for you.