I’ve been thinking and reading about the Universe, and the Hubble Telescope Ultra Deep Field discoveries. I am amazed and humbled. To begin with, our vast Solar system is a mere speck on the outside edge of the Milky Way Galaxy. Technically, cosmologists call our Milky Way Galaxy a barred spiral galaxy. This means that it has several distinct arms (in our case four) and is shaped in a spiral like a giant frisbee. What we see when we look out at our Milky Way is a neighboring arm in the galaxy. In aggregate, our galaxy is about 100,000 light-years (LYs) across. Just for clarification, that means it would take light (which travels at 186,000 miles per second) 100,000 years to travel across the full diameter of our Milky Way Galaxy. One (1) Light Year (LY) is 5.88 trillion miles. That is how far light travels in one year. Now consider this, our Milky Way Galaxy is considered to be just a medium size galaxy. Cosmologists estimate the “Observable Universe” (that which we can see or observe) contains at least 2 Trillion Galaxies and “more Stars than the total number of grains of sand on the entire Earth.” The observable universe is estimated to be 93 Billion LYs across. And once again, that is only what we can see/observe. This has to make you pause and think!
While you “pause and think,” consider these scriptural references that refer to the enormous expanse of God’s creations:
“That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore.” Genesis 22:17
“And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.” Genesis 32:12
“But behold, and lo, we saw the glory and the inhabitants of the telestial world, that they were as innumerable as the stars in the firmament of heaven, or as the sand upon the seashore.” D&C 76:109
“And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom;….” D&C 88:37
“And worlds without number have I created….” Moses 1:33
“And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations; and thy curtains are stretched out still; and yet thou art there….” Moses 7:30
Frankly, the numbers in astronomy are too large to get our heads around. We are incapable of understanding the big numbers like “78 Billion Light Years across the expanse of the Universe.” So, how do we calculate and come up with these numbers? Enter the Hubble Deep Space Field Telescope. This powerful satellite-based telescope looked into a patch of sky that looked empty. It kept the lens open for 10 consecutive days during Christmas 1995 and found about 3,000 additional galaxies (in that “empty space”). Then, in 2004, the Hubble Ultra Deep Space Field Telescope looked into another patch of sky that looked entirely empty. That event represents the deepest portrait of the visible universe ever achieved by humankind. Using the improved capabilities of the Advanced Camera for Surveys (the camera installed during the 2002 servicing mission), a new Deep Field was observed in the constellation of Fornax (the Furnace). The Ultra Deep Fields show the furthest away galaxies that can be observed in visible light. It kept the lens open for 11 days and found about 10,000 additional galaxies there — all these in patches of space that initially looked empty.
The next breakthrough came after the 2009 servicing mission in which astronauts installed a new instrument capable of making greatly improved infrared observations. The resulting image, covering most of the field of view of the 2004 Ultra Deep Field observations, is the deepest image ever made of the cosmos.
Published in 2012, the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field is not a new set of observations, but rather a combination of many existing exposures (over 2000 of them) into one image. Combining the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, the Hubble Ultra Deep Field – Infrared, and many other images of the same small spot of the sky taken over almost 10 years, the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field pushes the limit even further.
The last Hubble Ultra Deep Field released in 2014 was observed in the ultraviolet. This image allowed astronomers to study star formation in a region 5 to 10 billion light-years away from us. The study is called the Ultraviolet Coverage of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (UVUDF) project. The addition of ultraviolet data to the Hubble Ultra Deep Field using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 gives astronomers access to direct observations of regions of unobscured star formation. (Note: The above Hubble imagery and information was taken from the Hubble Space Telescope site.)
As reference points, here’s a simplified and very brief summary of what we can see or estimate about the “Observable Universe” (what we can see). Let’s think of the “Observable Universe” as being divided into Five Levels or systems moving in the “Observable Universe:”
- In “Our Solar System,” we have eight (8) planets orbiting around our Sun. Compared with other stars in the Universe, our Sun is considered an “unremarkable” star. Our solar system is located about halfway between the center of the Milky Way Galaxy and the outer edge.
- Our galaxy is “the Milky Way Galaxy.” It is a Spiral Galaxy estimated to be 100,000 Light Years (LYs) in diameter. Within the Milky Way Galaxy, our Solar System is one of more than 400 billion Solar Systems. The Pin Wheel Galaxy (visible in Ursa Major) is much like our Milky Way Galaxy. The Milky Way has an estimate of greater than 400 Billion stars within its boundaries, and there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zones of Sun-like stars. There is also an additional 16 orbiting Satellite Galaxies just outside the boundaries of the Milky Way Galaxy.
- Outside the Milky Way Galaxy is “our Local Group of Galaxies.” In this group, there are 54 different galaxies, and it is estimated to be 10 Million LYs across. There are three major galaxies in the “Local Group:” The three largest members of the group (in descending order) are the Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way Galaxy, and the Triangulum Galaxy.
- Andromeda has an estimated one trillion stars with 25 orbiting Satellite Galaxies outside its boundaries. It is a Barred Spiral Galaxy (like our Milky Way) located about 2.5 Million LYs away. And it is about 220,000 LYs in diameter.
- Milky Way has an estimated 400 billion stars with 16 orbiting Satellite Galaxies outside its boundaries. And it is about 100,000 LYs in diameter.
- Triangulum has an estimated 40 billion stars within its boundaries.
(Note: This Local Group itself is a part of the larger Virgo Supercluster, which may be a part of the Laniakea Supercluster.)
- The “Virgo Supercluster (SC)” is a mass concentration of galaxies containing the Virgo Cluster and our Local Group (which in turn contains the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies). At least 100 galaxy groups and clusters are located within its diameter of 110 million LYs. The Virgo SC is one of about 10 million superclusters in the observable universe. A 2014 study indicates that the Virgo Supercluster is only a lobe of an even greater supercluster: Laniakea.
- The “Laniakea Supercluster (SC)” is the galaxy supercluster that is home to the Milky Way and approximately 100,000 other nearby galaxies. It encompasses approximately 100,000 galaxies stretched out over 520 million LYs. It has the approximate mass of a hundred thousand times that of our Milky Way galaxy.
So, there’s my inadequate summary. And, as I said at the beginning of this Blog, “this has to make you pause and think!” For me, I am overwhelmed, greatly humbled …and, at the same time, more aware of my “nothingness”! “O Lord, how great are thy works!” Psalm 92:5. Now I need to pause and think some more.
“I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come….”
(The Book of Mormon, Mosiah 4:11)
As I leave these thoughts with you, I also include a great talk offered by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. His address is entitled “Our Creator and the Cosmos.” It’s about 35 minutes in length. Unfortunately, we can’t see his visuals/graphics. But you can imagine them, and some are shown in this Blog above. I hope you’ll ponder and enjoy this inspiring message.
- “Teachings Concerning The Telestial Glory.” (n.d.). Retrieved from http://emp.byui.edu/SATTERFIELDB/Quotes/Telestial.htm
- The Movements Of The Earth – Maristas Checkpoint. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/maristascheckpoint/home/science-1-eso/contents/uni
- Your Solar System Is Located Near The Milky Way Galaxy? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://science.answers.com/Q/Your_Solar_system_is_located_near_the_Milky_way_gal
- “The Zodiac Of The Stars’ Signs” (chapter 8) | Hogwarts … (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.hogwartsishere.com/library/book/8128/chapter/8/
- Virgo Supercluster – Wikipedia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgo_Supercluster
- Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “Our Creator and the Cosmos” Audio.
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