scorecardThe whole universe fits in one image with a special trick of math
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The whole universe fits in one image with a special trick of math

The whole universe fits in one image with a special trick of math
LifeScience3 min read
A logarithmic illustration of the entire universe, starting with the solar system and ending with the cosmic background radiation of the big bang.    Pablo Carlos Budassi/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The universe is enormous - so vast that it's almost impossible to picture what it might look like in one image.

But musician Pablo Carlos Budassi managed to do it by combining logarithmic maps of the universe from Princeton and images from NASA.

He created the image below that shows the observable universe in one disc:

Our sun and solar system are at the very center of the image, followed by the outer ring of our Milky Way galaxy, the Perseus arm of the Milky Way, a ring of other nearby galaxies like Andromeda, the rest of the cosmic web, cosmic microwave background radiation leftover from the big bang, and finally a ring of plasma also generated by the big bang.

Logarithms help us make sense of huge numbers, and in this case, huge distances. For example, when we zoom out from 1 centimeter to 1 decimeter, then 1 decimeter to 1 meter, we've changed scales by two orders of magnitude, or 102.

Rather than showing all parts of the universe on a linear scale, Budassi made each chunk of the circle represent a field of view several orders of magnitude larger than the one before it. That's why the entire observable universe is able to fit inside a circle.

Budassi got the idea after making hexaflexagons for his son's birthday one year. (If you haven't seen a hexaflexagon in action, get ready to have your mind blown.)

"Then when I was drawing hexaflexagons for my sons birthday souvenirs I started drawing central views of the cosmos and the solar system," Budassi previously told Tech Insider in an email. "That day the idea of a logarithmic view came and in the next days I was able to [assemble] it with [P]hotoshop using images from NASA and some textures created by my own."

Budassi first uploaded the image to Wikipedia on June 21, 2013. Since then he's improved the image and created a few new log scales.

One newer and equally impressive illustration shows the universe's scale in a vertical image, below. It logarithmically zooms out from infinitesimal "quantum foam" of the fabric of space (a bewildering 10-32 meters in scale) all the way up to the edges of the observable universe (which is about 1058 larger).

Cosmologists now think the edge of the observable universe is 45.34 billion years in any direction - or, if you prefer a sphere roughly 90.72 billion light-years wide.

However, the real size of the cosmos that is beyond what we can observe may very well be infinite.

Pablo Carlos Budassi/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

A vertical logarithmic scale of the universe.

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