Unfathomed Universe!

What is the biggest formation in our universe? And, what is the smallest one there?

With the help of technology at our disposal, we find that these are indeed bewildering immensities. We stand somewhere in between and wonder at our destiny in the whole scheme.

Visions pass before our eyes of man and the earth. Primitive man at the debut out of his pre-human existence for the first time peeps out of a dark cave and stares up at the sky until the distant stars, which kindles a light of response in his eyes. A vague uneasiness creeps in his breast at the void lying before him. What else does he have to measure this unfathomed void but a song being sung before the fire-side? Since then centuries and millennia have rolled by and the concepts of the earth and heaven have expanded in his consciousness to the dimensions of the universe.

Human thought has had to grope its way over time through murky mazes and dead ends, it resorted to hibernation for centuries to wait for its hour and floundered in the pitfalls of delusions and contradictions, yet man has inevitably emerged triumphant from his struggle with eternal, inexhaustible Nature.

And now, too, his mind seeks to probe the depths of the universe and the fundamentals of matter.

Man stands at a crossroads of infinities.

Here, one road leads him into a world of galaxies, where fleeing matter soars to sub-light speed and the other, into a micro world of vanishingly small spatial and temporal dimensions and the strange world of dual manifestations where the perplexing laws of probability rule.

 Today at the stage of science that is available to us and with the help of knowledge that is part of our consciousness, let us try to fathom the hazy voids.

The known portion of the universe extends for approximately ‘ten with power of ten =10 with superscript 10’ light years, or ‘ten with power of 28 = 10 with superscript 28’  cm or centimeter. Man is smaller than the universe by a factor of ‘ten with power of 26 = 10 with superscript 26’. The dimensions of our planet make it impossible for us to comprehend even approximately the vastness and frightening meaning of this difference.

But man is great if only because he has succeeded in spanning it.

Take the other road to infinity, which leads into the world of elementary particles. The smallest of the known distance is ‘ten with power of minus 14 = 10 with superscript minus 14 cm. It differs from the greatest by a factor of ‘ten with power of 42 = 10 with subscript 42.

These are the limits of modern knowledge, the measured sections of the roads that we approximately know. And, beyond that what is there we do not know but we know it cannot be void without any substance out there!

 The number ‘ten with power of 42 = 10 with superscript 42’ are so great that it is impossible to offer a meaningful picture of its true magnitude. An example from Kenneth Ford’s book ‘The World of Elementary Particles’ in which he attempts to assess the number ‘ten with power of 42 = 10 with superscript 42′ in terms of conventional images, is as good as any other. Suppose the number of people on Earth is increased to ’10 with superscript 42′. The globe is capable of holding some ’10 with superscript 15′ persons only when they stand side by side. There are around ’10 with supersript 23′ stars in the universe. Assuming that each star has 10 planets, there are ’10 with superscript 24′ planets. Well, by standing people side by side on all of them we could make place for ’10 with superscript 39′ persons only, still much fewer than ’10 with superscript 42’.

This playing with numbers is with regard to space.

What about time?

Let us consider the measures of time also. Man’s average life expectancy is 70 years. Civilization is several thousand years old. It will be for other civilizations to judge what we have achieved, or failed to achieve in the time at our disposal. The smallest known distance is ’10 with superscript minus 14` centimeters. Light travels it in ’10 with superscript minus 24′ seconds. This, then, is the smallest time interval, and it lies far beyond the limits of all known methods of time measurement.

The greatest time interval we know is the ‘lifetime of the universe’. By this we mean the time since when the universe has been expanding, which is estimated at anywhere between 10,000 million and 30,000 million years, or about ’10 with superscript 18′ seconds. A comparison of these intervals yields the staggering number ’10 with supersript 42′ seconds. These are the temporal dimensions with which man, which lives ’10 with superscript 8′ seconds, has to deal.

Incidentally, the coincidence of the time and distance intervals is not fortuitous. The remotest sections of the universe are receding from us at velocities approaching that of light. These, too, are the velocities of particles of the micro world. The speed of light unites the two infinities, the infinity of vastness and the infinity of minuteness.

And we are at the crossroads.

The habitual everyday world about us knows no such speeds. Only the human intellect can cope with domains where light is a measure of speed. These are the dimensions of space and time.

There remains matter. It changes with time and moves through space, it constitutes our essence. Nature realizes itself in Homo sapiens. Matter has many faces and its manifestations are infinite. But there is one thing characteristic of all matter: it has mass.

Let us try to assess the approximate mass of the universe. It contains ’10 with superscript 23′ stars. An average star weighs ’10 with superscript 35′ grams. Hence, the mass of the universe is something like ’10 with superscript 58′ grams. Each gram contains about ’10 with superscript 24′ protons. A rough estimate thus yields that the known portion of the universe contains ’10 with superscript 82′ protons. A man weighs about ’10 with superscript 5′ grams. and contains approximately ’10 with superscript 29′ protons. His brain, however, is capable of comprehending the number ’10 with superscript 82′ and ‘weighing’ the universe.

This is the image of man put in the perspectives of space and time.

And this is the image of his thoughts – thoughts when he was living in caves and today when he zooms in spacecrafts.

Man has traveled a long distance from his cave dwelling to a star-counter. It is why the mysteries of space, time and matter excite and attract his imagination so much.

Not for the sake of the cold light of abstract truth does man so stubbornly assault the secrets of the universe. It is not only for the sake of technological progress and material affluence that he seeks to fathom the depths of the macro and micro world. Man’s main, and not always realized, incentive for quest lies deep within him. What is that deep within man, which propels him onto such a quest, is the mystery of all mysteries!

When one speaks of the limits of the universe he implies the limits of knowledge. Temporary limits, to be sure, but nevertheless limits. In probing the universe man probes his own brain. The nature of his boldest and ‘maddest’ theories is determined by his way of thinking.

That is why the secrets of the cosmos and the micro world excite and attract us. They are (as if) a mirror, which reflects our capability for knowledge. And man is born for knowledge.

This is the meaning and the purpose of civilization. This is why man will never stop looking into the mirror of the universe.

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