Thursday, September 06, 2012

Scale of things

Last Friday, August 31, the above happened. From the Flicr description by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center:
On August 31, 2012 a long filament of solar material that had been hovering in the sun's atmosphere, the corona, erupted out into space at 4:36 p.m. EDT. The coronal mass ejection, or CME, traveled at over 900 miles per second. The CME did not travel directly toward Earth, but did connect with Earth's magnetic environment, or magnetosphere, causing aurora to appear on the night of Monday, September 3.

The image above includes an image of Earth to show the size of the CME compared to the size of Earth.
I added emphasis to the above just in case a casual reader misses it: This photo includes a tiny earth for the sake of comparison only. Still, the image made me think of the movie Knowing (which, despite its flaws, I kinda liked).

In case you’re wondering (I was), 900 miles per second is approximately 1,448.4096 kilometres per second, or nearly the length of New Zealand (1600km) in one second. The distance between the earth and sun is about 150 million kilometres (93 million miles). At that speed, a CME would take about 28 hours to reach the earth (which is why the aurora weren’t visible until the night of September 3). Fortunately, they dissipate before they make it that far—well, so far, they do: December 2012? I’m kidding—I do NOT believe in any of that Mayan end-of-the-world stuff.

The other reason I like this image (apart from its space-related awesomeness) is that it’s also kind of a visualisation of how I feel at the moment: Dwarfed by all that needs to be done, somewhat overwhelmed. But not so overwhelmed that I can’t stop to marvel at the wonders of the universe, and of science. Or, to post about it, obviously.

Photo credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO

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