A little perspective

November 12, 2006

It’s nearly one in the morning, a week before my eighteenth birthday. Now seems like a good time to put my life into a little perspective.

I’m a human, mostly, and I’m made of beelions and beelions of atoms. I’m pretty sure you are, too. Now, as solid as I think I am, I’m almost entirely made of nothing at all — the vast majority of my body is made up of the gaps between the atoms of which I am composed. Take a look for yourself: the single proton in that image (making up around half the mass of the atom itself), at the scale shown on your screen, is eleven miles away from the electron that orbits it.

Eleven miles of bugger all.

As if to screw with our heads even more, the mass of the atom is partially made up by… um, nothing. If you take a single atom and split it in half (like in a nuclear reactor, or an A-bomb), the weight of the pieces is not the same as the original atom. 1 + 1 literally does not equal 2.

Let’s stop there, and go in the other direction. I stand a little under six feet tall — average size, I suppose. Now, the Earth is substantially larger; it’s really quite big, actually.

Wrong. It’s hundreds of times tinier than the Sun, but hundreds of times larger than Pluto (which isn’t a planet anymore, but whatever..). And, just like an atom, the Solar System is made almost entirely of absolutely nothing at all. Here’s Jupiter, in case you couldn’t find it.

Finally, click here. That’s a lovely (if enormous — 6.5MB) image, isn’t it? See those dots in the background, though? Those aren’t planets, they aren’t even stars. Those are galaxies, just like the ones colliding in the foreground.

Heh. If you’ll excuse me, I think I feel a Douglas Adams moment coming on.


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