Sunday, August 02, 2009

Photosynth of the Night Sky

When you look up at the beautiful stars on a clear night- you're looking at an image that's different from anything you'll see on earth. That's because each point of light is from a different time. Adjacent stars may be separated by billions of miles. You're seeing the stars as they were, and WHERE THEY WERE billions of years ago. Before there were humans, before there was Earth.

Who knows where they are now? Some of them have probably already been sucked into black holes, or blown themselves up in supernovas, or travelled halfway across the sky.

This is what i think: understanding the massive/tiny time & distance scales of the universe is too hard for a monkey brain to comprehend intuitively. "Seeing is believing" - and we have trouble grasping the fact that the image of an object is not the object itself.

An experiment is everyday living:

1. you place a fresh red apple 1 foot away, and take a polaroid photo of it, and place the photo in front of the apple. (Don't look at the apple or the photo).

2. throw the apple on the back of a truck as it speeds away, wait a year till it's completely rotten in some landfill somewhere.

3. now open your eyes- and look at the apple image.

4. Ask yourself: "where is the apple really?"

5. Ask yourself: "where is the image of the apple?"

That's what looking up at the night sky is like. Looking up at the stars is not at all like looking down at your feet. Actually, it's a lot like looking at a photosynth image- a composite image of a region of space, but with each photograph representing a different time. Maybe generation Z will have a better grip on the universe thanks to photosynth!

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