I was going to post something about the Panama Papers today… but I don’t have time to write the rest of it right now. …so here’s some funk infused songs that I would put in a compilation album themed around Mark Robinson’s Uptown Funk.
Sexiest lesbian couple I’ve ever seen. The girl on the right looks like Katee Sackhoff.
Bladerunner. Dang robots… always running away…
I always love new old stuff of the future from the past.
WTaF. NOT. …how galaxies actually form. Kind of a hot button issue with me.
Not really a fan of the video. Advise you play, minimize browser, and evaluate this one based purely on how it sounds.
This post isn’t really about Trump. Yah it looks like it at a glance, and I’m certainly going to be writing about him extensively, but Trump isn’t really important as an individual. It doesn’t seem like that now, does it? He’s all over the media and poised to win the Republican nomination. Make no mistake: he’s going to win that nomination. Everybody is scared of what he would do to the country. What he would do to other countries. The dark marks he would leave on our economy, the fabric of our society, and our history as a nation. Kids… Trump isn’t going to win the election. He’s really not. I’ll explain that in greater detail a little later, but again, it’s not important outside of the dramatic effects that will ripple forward politically for a very long time. What Trump represents however is critically important (though shameful). There is going to be a seismic shift in American politics at the end of this year the likes of which I’ve never seen in my lifetime. In fact, and I don’t care how old you are, you’ve never seen it either. Trump is a catalyst of sorts, and while we are very close to seeing him detonate it, this isn’t his IED; he’s just the metaphorical fuse. This bomb lays at the foundation of the Tea Party and it has become part of the core fabric of the Republican party, carefully woven in over decades for votes and money (that’s right I’m mixing metaphors bitches! Anarchy in the UK!). A major split is coming for the Republican party. The consequences of this rift are going to take many years to resolve (they may going the way of the Whig Party). More than that though, this post is really about the spirit of the USA and who we really are as a society.
My friend Michael recently pointed out to me that we are living in a little bubble of progressive young people. He’s right. It’s a little hard to imagine the world outside of it sometimes. Things are pretty great in the bubble. So, here is what I’m going to write to my friend Erik, a German guy, who asked me about Trump: Trump isn’t what’s interesting here. There’s a big tear coming in the GOP, and some ugly truths about the US are spilling out. Trump will be forgotten in time… but his supporters will still be out there, waiting to be reactivated. I’m going to do my best to write this with an informed foreign audience in mind. The tl;dr; is yes: we are that dumb.
Inevitability: The Republican Nomination
I’m now going to describe for you why Trump is absolutely going to win the Republican nomination. I’m doing this because that assumption is absolutely critical to the larger thesis of this blog post, and I have no idea what would happen were it not a given. If you agree with me on that point, you can just skip down to the next section and it won’t affect the trust of this post. Otherwise, here we go: Trump will win the Republican nomination or there will not be a Republican party anymore (at least not as we know it).
…and just like that, everything Trump ever said about Chris Christie was validated. #politiciansforsale
The so-called establishment Republicans have nothing to fight back with from the standpoint of campaign message or policy. For 7 years, they have been focused simply on blocking anything Obama tries to put forth. On the topic of the Affordable Care Act, Trumps plan, while ridiculous, is up against “no plan” from the Republican establishment. The right has been sitting on immigration reform while at the same time promoting the idea that the US is drowning in illegal immigrants, so it’s not hard to see why their base is behind Trumps idea (even sans a plan) to forcibly deport 11 million people. The establishment’s counter-proposal? Crickets. No ideas for decades (in fact you’d have to go back to Reagan naturalizing everyone in the 80s for any example of concrete action). The recently proposed establishment idea of creating chaos in immigrant communities to convince them to leave of their own volition is no more plausible than Trump’s wall. They can’t go after Trump for being unelectable either, in part because he’s winning most of the primaries, and partially because they’ve spent so much time convincing their base that Clinton is about to get indicted by the Justice Department. They can’t go after him for fiscal irresponsibility when the Republican party line demands huge regressive tax cuts and significantly higher defense spending. Nor can the Republicans seriously go after Trump for not denouncing an endorsement from KKK supporter David Duke, when the guy who once described himself as “David Duke without the baggage” is the third most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives. The party that’s spent so much time convincing themselves that “facts don’t matter” ironically now finds itself needing the facts more than ever. The Republican establishment is very much a situation of it’s own making; there are no Republican counter-arguments to Trump.
Returning POWs – Return to your CIC: you’re about to get busted down to private for dereliction of duty.
Some on the right are striving for the nominee to be decided at the convention. This is a non-starter for a couple of reasons. For one, the numbers just aren’t going to be there. Vegas has a Trump nomination at about 60% as of this writing. The next runner up? Cruz at just 18%. Historically, Vegas is better than the polls at predicting things. It makes sense: when money is on the line wishful thinking or political asshattery are quickly replaced by greed. That eliminates a lot of BS. Trump almost has a third of the delegates he needs to be assured the nomination. It’s hard to see how he won’t pick up the remainder, especially given that the turnout to the polls is surging (shattering records in fact) with first-time republican voters eager to put crazy-face’s hand over the button. Second, a brokered victory over Trump would disenfranchise a lot of republican voters, especially if Trump takes the popular vote (and he will). The protest vote could hand the presidential victory to the Dems, and if not that the loss in voter turnout will. That is a given, and every Republican political strategist recognizes it. The March 15 Florida primary, with 99 delegates at stake, marks the start of the winner-take-all phase of the Republican battle for the presidential nomination. If Marco Rubio loses (his home state) he’ll have to drop out right there. Right now Trump is well in the lead in the Florida polls with over 47% of the vote vs. Rubio’s 26% and Cruz’s 12%. I just don’t see how that gap can be bridged. All of those delegates are going to Trump.
Barring all else, the Republican party actually has the power to exercise a sort-of nuclear option. The only thing the “elites” need to decide is whether the political price to be paid by removing the appearance of democracy from within the Republican party would be greater than that of a Trump presidency. I don’t know the answer to that. All I can tell the Republicans is that they are fracked. Hard.
Impossibility: The Presidency
So American… I can’t tell them apart.
Fundamentally, Trump won’t be elected in the national election because more than half of the country recognizes he would be a terrible president. More interestingly, the Republican party itself has descended in a sort of civil war which will fundamentally change the Republican party itself. It’s only going to get worse in the months leading to November, and this is going to cost ANY republican nominee the election. Actual conservatives won’t stand for it. He’s not really a conservative at all you see, and while the uneducated nationalists flocking to him now might now care about that, it will matter to those who actually have to run this country. Morally unmoored, emotionally unstable, a crony capitalist of the worst kind, Trump won’t be able to please a base he’s promised the impossible, the contradictory, the unconstitutional. His wall will never be built. He won’t build internment camps and deport all the Mexicans and Muslims. These are things that just cannot happen… because they are stupid. His nationalist base by it’s very nature has about a 2 second attention span. When the goods aren’t getting delivered, the raucous mob will turn on him. …but that’s just it, isn’t it? By the time that happens, we’ll have been living under dark Trump rule for 2 or 3 years. Voters will no longer be able distinguish between the words “Trump,” “Republican,” “conservative,” and “buffoon.” He will obliterate Republicans further down the ticket in 2016, 2020, and 2024, and smear the very concept of conservatism as nothing more than his own brand of racist narcissism, destroying decades of right-wing conditioning of the base. Truly, we are in the worst-case scenario for the Republican party. It’s here. I’m not predicting this. It’s right now, and Republican strategists, perhaps more than anyone, know it. The beautiful irony is that the long-term damage being done right now, the damage that is worsened with every Trump vote, will hurt those voting for him politically for the rest of their lives. Here is a class of voter (Trump supporter) who’s voice will never be heard again. If Trump is at the top of the ticket (and again, it’s virtually certain at this point), Republicans will likely lose the Senate in short order. That, however, pales in comparison to the overall discrediting of conservatism that will follow. In pulling down the GOP, Trump will take conservatism with it, and guarantee decades of liberal dominance. That’s politics, baby.
Voter Turnout by Educational Attainment, United States 2012 General Election
Liberal media sometimes likes to paint, with so wide a brush, a portrait of the “stupid right”; it’s just not so. While I disagree with many of their social views and political platforms, there are in fact some very smart Republicans out there. My own brother is one of them. We have fierce debates about about almost every facet of public policy (we actually agree on a fair number of points), but he’s always supremely rational and backs up his positions with facts. None of what I’ve written is likely lost on him or the establishment, and the latter are already chiming in to try and stop Trump. Senator Ron Johnson (R) “won’t support Trump and would consider voting for a conservative third-party candidate in the general election if he’s the nominee”, effectively abstaining from voting. He’s up for a tough re-election campaign in Texas, so I guess he needs to hedge his statements a bit. Senator Mark Kirk (R) didn’t care for the bigoted statements Trump made, and retorted with: “In a typical Chicago way, to my Mexican-American friends, I would say, ‘Donald Trump callate’ — shut up.” Senator Ben Sasse (R) noted Trumps “relentless focus is on dividing Americans, and on tearing down rather than building back up this glorious nation.” Sasse said he would not support Trump because he “displays essentially no understanding of the fact that, in the American system, we have a constitutional system of checks and balances.” Senator Tom Coburn (R) won’t vote for him because he “simply lacks the character, skills and policy knowledge to turn his grandiose promises into reality.” …these are just some of the senators. Did you know #StopTrump is a hashtag trend started by conservatives? Somebody even pulled Mitt Romney out of his harem, dusted him off, and pointed him to a microphone to give a speech about why conservatives should not vote for Trump under any circumstances. Congressman Scott Rigell (R) “Trump is a bully, unworthy of our nomination. My love for our country eclipses my loyalty to our party, and to live with a clear conscience I will not support a nominee so lacking in the judgment, temperament and character needed to be our nation’s commander-in-chief.” It’s sad that there are only a handful right now, but I’m sure more will jump on board as Trump nears critical delegate mass to avoid things being decided at the convention. The truth is that in a National election, to the question of which candidate “you would definitely not support for the Republican nomination for president”, 26% of all Republican voters would refuse to back him, which improves to 28% when only Republican college graduates are considered. If it holds, that is a record. Also, a Trump nomination virtually guarantees the flight of college educated conservatives from Republican ranks for a generation. The Republican party can’t recover from that. The crap Trump is pulling in the primaries isn’t going to fly in a national election. There are more democrats than republicans in America (and boy to they hate him). You can’t win an election without minorities (he’s not winning many). You can’t win an election without women. (…and Trump’s still apparently interested in hooking up with his daughter. Probably not a good look with the mothers of America.) Sorry, Trump fans. It just can’t happen (probably).
If nothing else, consider that 60% of America doesn’t like him. It is the highest negative rating of any presidential candidate Gallup has ever tested. End of line.
We The People
“Trump pisses liberals off. Sorry, but this is a big reason why many people support him. It is a ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ type of thing, I guess.” ~Sean Patterson
Trump schmump, I say. Let’s get down to brass tacks, people. Trump isn’t a disease… he’s a symptom. One thing that really concerns me are media outlets that are solely focused on the abhorrent policies in Trump’s platform. See… that’s not even close to the scariest thing going on here. Trump is just a side-show clown. He’s not going to get elected. What’s scary is that Trump gives validation to his followers bigoted views. I mean this shit seems reasonable to them! The deportation of Mexicans and Muslims, the Wall Mexico is buying us, expanding libel laws so he can sue reporters for unfavorable reports. He validates violence as a go-to solution to social discord. Do you want lynch mobs? Because this is how you get lynch mobs. He “emboldens” them, to use a CI term (fairly appropriate given the context I think). His supporters are now “tellin’ it like it is” just like Trump, voicing even more radical and morally repugnant rhetoric for all the cameras to see. This in turn provides a chain reaction of validation for bigots. To the mainstream media’s credit, perhaps they’ve identified that problem and decided to mute coverage of Trump supporters a bit. You see… it used to be socially unacceptable to say “maybe we shouldn’t have ended slavery” or “gay people should all be put in jail” (you know… so they can’t get any gay sex) but now that the front runner for the Republican nomination is saying it, the thinking goes that it must be OK. What may happen next is that actions follow words. A spike, in my view, in hate crimes could occur: particularly given that Trump will fail to win the national election and as the bigots divorced from “facts” and “reality” will have been denied the national representation they’ve been absolutely assured was going to happen. Now all the racists will have found each other, and having no alternative but to take matters into their own hands, just may.
Is this who we are?
Trump supporters: Who are they? Well, we have a weird political situation here in the US. Left parties the world over were founded to advance the fortunes of working, blue collar workers. The left party in the US chose long ago to turn its back on these people’s concerns, instead making itself into the tribune of an “enlightened” professional class that makes innovative things like derivative securities, iPhone apps, and websites *ahem*. The working people that the party used to care about, Democratic elites figured, had nowhere else to go. The party just didn’t need to listen to them any longer. They were annoying to listen to anyway… particularly as all of their jobs were moving over seas, they had a lot to bitch about. So here we have this huge disenfranchised demographic in the US that no political party is listening to. They’ve been appropriated by the Republicans, not because the Republicans genuinely care about their issues with higher healthcare costs, higher tuition costs, the loss of social mobility, etc…, but because the Republicans NEED the votes! The world is moving beyond the old Republican way of doing things (white men only) and it’s easier to get the working class on-board than change. Slowly but surely over the last few decades there has been a backlash growing against liberalism, against technology that sprints ahead with no thought for the consequences, against globalization and a pluralistic society. The world is leaving a lot of Americans behind, in short. Trump gives this disenfranchised class and the luddites of the nation a voice (half the content of his stump speeches is typically focused on trade). Does this voice make sense? No. That doesn’t matter to the disenfranchised though. There is a significant class of voters who have no alternatives, from their perspective. A class of voters that has been abandoned by both parties because what this class of voters wants, nobody can give them anymore. They don’t understand that those jobs are gone forever, and they don’t care why. They are angry, and they want someone to channel that anger.
Finally, someone is saying what the ignored working-class Americans, with genuine and real grievances, want to hear. That message is angry, for the base is angry. That message is incoherent, because the mob is incoherent. A substantial number of his supporters just want to give the finger to the establishment, by their own admission. The bar for entry is low: Be a devout Trump supporter (an authoritarian). If you are denied entry, it can only be because you are the enemy. Trump has his supporters believing absurdities. Now will they commit atrocities? I don’t know the answer to that. They look pretty frack’n capable of committing them at a glance, don’t they? If you are interested, here are a few Trump supporters taking the time to actually write out why they support him. …but that’s just what they say, here’s what they do: In one incident the school confirmed to the WP happened, Evelyn Momplaisir, frustrated, posted a statement on Facebook: “For anyone out there who thinks the racist rhetoric Donald Trump is spewing is harmless, I just got a call from my son’s teacher giving me a heads up that two of his classmates decided to point out the ‘immigrants’ in the class who would be sent ‘home’ when Trump becomes president. They singled him out and were pointing and laughing at him as one who would have to leave because of the color of his skin. In third grade … in Fairfax County … in 2016!” In Des Moines, Iowa, white students began chanting the name “Trump, Trump, Trump” to the Latino players on an opposing basketball team (it happened in Indiana too… probably not an isolated instance). Some Marine recruit got dropped like a bad habit from the Corps for his harassment of a black girl at a Trump rally. I’m not surprised. The Trump platform says it’s going to deport all undocumented Mexican nationals (around 11 million people) and wrap the whole thing in 18 months. That’s going to be really brutal to execute that many deportations in so little time. Things will get rough. He also wants to ban all Muslims from entering the country. These are racist policies. Trump also wants to bomb the homes of families of ISIS fighters. That’s a straight up war crime, people. Trump supporters are overwhelmingly on-board.
So here’s where the real problem lies. It’s not Trump: it’s Trump supporters. We can’t “ban Islam”; it’s principally un-American and it’s unconstitutional. We can’t bomb communities indiscriminately WWII style; that would be a war crime. We can’t deport 11 million people in 18 months; not without devastating millions of families, spurring racist witch hunts, encouraging bigoted attacks, and creating a major humanitarian crisis. We can’t build his wall… because it’s stupid. We can’t “open up” libel laws so corrupt politicians can skirt around the First Amendment and sue reporters for reporting unfavorably. It’s unconstitutional. We can’t torture people. We’ve had that discussion already, and it is also a war crime. The citizens of the US won’t tolerate it. …but Trump supporters don’t give a snip. That’s a problem, because these are some non-negotiables for me. Trump supporters are the gateway to the ugly underbelly of America. The institutional racism. The secret bigots and haters. The insane and the provably stupid. They get a vote too, and it turns out there’s a hell of a lot of them. They are listening to one another and creating a real, substantive movement in which it’s OK to be racist, bigoted, and vicious, and not every US citizen is really an American. It’s us vs. them but with guns and huge-fuck-off explosions like in Rambo. …because that’s awesome. …so I guess I have to concede this is who we are. There is a substantial voter block that has contempt for the constitution, for social equality, and for rational discourse. That sucks for the country. It sucks even more if you are Republican. That is to say, ‘if you are a smart Republican you don’t want all of that equated to you’. Here comes the seismic shift…
A Republican Identity Crisis
The Republican party is currently in full-on crisis mode. You wouldn’t know it by looking upon a Trump rally, but on the web, in forums, in private and in conservative media, there is a war brewing. Trump supporters are probably barely aware of it. Trump supporters are just getting politically active for the first time, and they don’t circle jerk in conservative forums about what the “liberals” are doing or coming up with ways to thwart “liberals” because THEY DON’T FRACKING CARE! They just don’t. They don’t have a plan. They have strong feelings and demand that their policy objectives are achieved because it’s what they want and that is that. Nope, there’s a secret that’s been hidden within the republican party for many years: There are two, distinct parties within the Republican party. The OG Republicans (let’s call them “elites”) have been running things for ages. They tell the base what to think and who to vote for. Within the base, there are the working-class-would-be-dems-but-oh-well Tea Party-esq neo-luddites. Apparently this is the single biggest block of voters who self-identify as Republican. Increasingly frustrated with the apparent lack of progress from party leaders, these guys broke off and tried to create the Tea Party… party, with the idea that they could overtake the Republican establishment. Well, they failed. Now they are adjusting their strategy. The new plan calls for them to take over the Republican party from within and rule it outright. It’s a war for the minds and souls of the party, and the “elites” are scared.
“This is, in general, a moment of testing for Republicans. It is a character test. Do you believe in the open and inclusive party of Ronald Reagan? Or do you want a bigoted and extremist party in the image of Donald Trump? I have been a Republican my entire life, but I will never support Trump. If voters nominate him, they will confirm everything bad that Democrats have ever said about the GOP. A Trump nomination will splinter the party, sully its good name—and increase the risk that a dangerous demagogue will assume the most powerful position in the world.” Neo-conservative Writer Max Boot – USA Today
The above (emphasis mine) is probably the most complete and succinct description I’ve read of the divide. You see, it doesn’t matter if Mitt Romney comes out and says “Here’s what I know: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud,” and that “His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing members of the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy hat.” Trump supporters aren’t even listening. They can’t hear those words because they don’t read. …and then that word comes up again: “contested convention.” Right. People are driven to the polls for Trump. Lock him out and see what happens. Nope. You did it to yourself GOP when you convinced the base that “facts don’t matter.” That was it… the point of no return.
So in future debates you really have to consider your position as a Republican. Can you win the hispanic or Muslim votes? I really don’t see how. Any minorities? Probably not. That’s not a very sustainable path given that the majority of Americans being born will be classified as minorities in 2019. The Republicans, more than anyone, see the need to draw a line here. “Is it OK to be a bigot? A racist? …to ignore the constitution?” It is a test of character. Trump confirms everything bad that the Democrats have ever said about the GOP. Pick your side.
Thinking Beyond The Election – It’s All On Record
Let’s play a little “what if.” What if you could go online and find everyone who voted for Hitler? Facebook posts, tweets, all of it. All of the Hitler support. What would have happened differently long before the Nuremberg Trials? Just something fun to think about. “Some day this election cycle is gonna end (in my best Lietuenant Colonel Kilgore voice)”. This stuff… the stupid debate crap… the videos the tweets the comments… they aren’t going anywhere. It’s on the web forever. Every Republican nose has been bloodied. Everyone has piss on their shoes. It’s an ugly scene. Anyone looks better than these clowns, and reelections are coming up. This could cost the Republicans the House and the Senate. Who are the Republicans anymore, anyway? I’m sure some will become Libertarians. Maybe the Republican former core members will form their own “moderate” Republican party? Who the fuck knows. It’s over. Go home.
I just think about everything Trump has said about Christie. All validated. …and by extension I suppose Christie validates everything Trump says now and even more so before. Hindsight, right? Yah… there are going to be some funny attack ads when Chris Christie is up for reelection. He could be running against a banana and still lose. He’ll probably tastefully “retire” and take a lucrative position at one of many Trump subsidiaries doing exactly what they all do: Nothing. We’re about to see how much of the Republican party is for sale. That should be fun. Each and every endorsement will add to this. An endorsement is saying “this is who I am”, really. It’s going to make Republicans look bad, though. There really aren’t a lot of up shots for them, are there? Put yourself in my shoes. I’m basically a marketer. You come to me with this shit brand… What do you want me to tell you? You’re fracked. Fold this shit and try to roll it into a new brand. That’s pretty much your only option as a company. I can’t sell this. Nobody can. This is the schism facing conservationism right now. If you want the Trump fan base, you need to take the bigotry, the disregard for the constitution, the incoherent unrealistic unconstitutional policy and OWN IT. A lot of Republicans…. those that see the insanity of it all… simply won’t do that. And so they are not Trump supporters: the “elite” have become the enemy. That’s how it works, right?… Right? Welp. Things be gettin’ crazy Erik, and nobody is really sure what will happen exactly. All we know is we’ve never seen anything like this. Maybe it’s the coming of the Idiocracy.
One of the celestial objects I think we sometimes take for granted is the Sun. In November of 2015, NASA put up a pretty stunning 30 minute series of time lapse videos of our Sun that shows off just how crazy and powerful it is. Enjoy… and if you have a particularly high resolution monitor, crank up the resolution on the video. I think YouTube defaults to 720p or something… this video goes up to 4k.
[Click to enlarge] Chart of many of the recently discovered exoplanets. I think this is a funny chart because we have no idea what any of these objects actually look like. It’s an image chart… but the images are made up. I bet purple ring world has nice sunsets.
All this talk of aliens and the Fermi Paradox got me to thinking about a concept that kept me up at night for years… until I got to college and figured out the difference between what we call the “observable universe” and the probable absolute-ish universe. I’d like to take the time to draw that distinction for you, now. The Fermi Paradox was conceived within and assuming the bounds of the observable universe (for that matter, it generally just assumes our own galaxy, but on the outside I have seen instances where it was the entire observable universe included in the calculation (which is a little disingenuous as an argument as you’ll soon see)). Understanding how big the universe actually is, even conservatively, makes the Fermi Paradox all the more mind blowing. So in this post we’re (royal) going to cover some really huge shit. If you don’t feel like an insignificant spec of dust now, you don’t know frak-all about your observable universe. …but consider this: perspectives and scales exist in our reality beyond the observable universe. Our entire observable universe is, in fact, an insignificant spec of dust itself.
Normally that would be my segue to installing a “so what the frak is the observable universe”-like header tag in this space, and proceeding to detail the universe we generally talk about in news articles and scientific books and papers. …but this is my damned blog, and I think first, in all fairness to the reader, I need to smack you down to size in terms of galactic scale. After we get through that part, I’ll get into the observable universe, and then after THAT, we can talk about what lies beyond. Sound fair? …as if I care. This is my boat. We’ll go where I want. …actually though the reason I’m doing this is because, for me anyway, it’s very difficult to fathom the sheer vastness of the observable universe. If I’m going to talk about what lies beyond in a way that can be meaningfully conceptualized by anyone, I can’t take the chance of marginalizing or depreciating it’s scale from the outset. The thrust of this post would be rendered meaningless if I did. Like so many of the best things in life, we’re going to take our time and build this up carefully, so the mind-blowing payoff at the end has maximum impact.
Banana For Scale
So how big is big? Well… it’s relative. The Sun seems pretty big. Let’s start there. Our home planet is 7,917 miles across. The Sun is 864,938 miles across. That’s a lot bigger. For perspective, at the average rate my Jeep has accrued miles since it was built (and granted, that rate has been significantly bumped up since I bought it used, but we’ll ignore that for simplicity’s sake), I will drive the distance of the diameter of the Earth (that’s as the heavily laden subterranean crow flies THROUGH the Earths core, not around) in about 8 months, whereas it would take a little over 73.3 years to drive through the Sun (again, the diameter). (Just FYI, it would take 7,890 or so years to drive to the sun… that’s how far away it is! …but MY Jeep wouldn’t make it another 2 years, truth be told. I can’t even drive to the moon… *sigh*) When our solar system formed, the system was like a pinball gallery of planets. Some were ejected entirely from our solar system and roam galactic space han solo, as unattached frozen worlds. (Interesting to think about how many out there… a Neptune-size planet could come shooting through our solar system from above or below the plane and we’d probably not see it coming until it was already here… rogue planets deserve their own blog post, but I digress.) A lot of those planets fell into the Sun. So… it got big. When you’ve really let the staggering size of our Sun sink in, watch the video below.
The takeaway: Despite the sheer hugeness of our Sun, there are other stars that absolutely dwarf it. The solar system itself is pretty big too. The video I’ve linked below is a pretty complete and concise explanation of our star system’s size.
The size of our solar system is restricted by it’s collective mass and our Sun’s power output. Some star systems stretch out far further, as you might deduce from the star comparison video. Our Galaxy, the Milky Way, contains about 200-400 billion stars. The Milky Way is about 100,000 light years across and 1000 light years “thick”. Banana for scale, light takes about 8 minutes and 20 seconds to reach Earth from the surface of the Sun. It turns out, though, that our galaxy ain’t all that when it comes to size. Sure, it’s cannibalized a few dwarf galaxies, but in around 4 billion years the neighboring Andromeda galaxy (220,000 light years across, at least twice the number of stars in lower bound estimates) is going to cannibalize us. (As another aside, I wish I could be there to see it. There will be spans of hundreds of millions of years whereby you would be able to read a book by starlight were the Earth not getting consumed by the sun at that time. Space will look so cool… from Mars.)
We’ve come a long way, dear reader. Figuratively and literally. Simply comparing the Milky Way to our closest significant neighbor is not enough for where we’re going though, so let’s talk about the biggest galaxy we’ve detected so far (remember: there’s always a bigger galaxy): IC 1101. This thing is a beast. 6 million light-years across. Over 100 fraking TRILLION stars, just in this galaxy.
Galactic surveys have revealed that the universe has a “bubbly texture.” Almost all galaxies are found within giant arcs surrounding enormous voids, some more than 300 million light years across, containing little other than empty space. Though it can’t be seen, dark matter dominates most of the structure. (click image to expand)
Galaxies can get pretty big. They can contain a lot of stars… many of which foster far larger star systems than our own. …and the thing is, there are a LOT of galaxies out there. Lower bound estimates of the number of galaxies in our observable universe suggest there are at least 225 billion large galaxies, but that number is probably higher. Astrophysicists typically prefer to err on the conservative side. Having touched on the scale of galaxies, we can now move on to the vast distances between them, and the still larger structures collections of galaxies form.
Intergalactic filaments (also called supercluster complexes, galaxy walls, and galaxy sheets) are the largest known structures in the observable universe. They are massive, thread-like formations, with a typical length of 150 to over 300 million light years, that form the boundaries between large voids in the universe. Filaments consist of gravitationally bound galaxies and so-called “Dark Matter“. Areas where a large number of galaxies are very close to each other (in cosmic terms) are called superclusters. I’ve already made a post with the video demonstrating the scale and structure our own supercluster, Laniakea. Feel free to click here to check it out. It’s useful in demonstrating the “flow” of galaxies through these filaments. One thing to note, however, is that the model depicted in that video DISCOUNTS the expansion of space-time. That’s something I’ll come back to when describing the observable universe. It’ll be important to understand space-time expansion when thinking about what lies beyond. One thing they don’t mention in that video is that the Laniakea Supercluster is actually being drawn towards the Shapley Supercluster as well. Even these macro cosmic structures are all interacting and shaping one another. That’s certainly worth noting, because there is strong evidence suggesting our entire observable universe is being manipulated by forces we may never be able to directly observe (in fact, our current laws of physics state quite explicitly that we will NEVER be able to directly observe these phenomena… but I’ll come back to that later). The video below represents the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which provides a 3-dimensional map of about a million galaxies and quasars. As the survey progresses, the data is released to the scientific community and the general public in annual increments. As you view the video below, note that the “split” down the middle of the model represents the plane of our galaxy, the density of which is difficult for us to see through. (This is actually the main problem we’re having getting a good look at The Great Attractor, which is surrounded by and possibly made up of a densely packed group of galaxies.)
The video above begins with data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and zooms out to reveal data from WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe), which did a microwave background radiation survey of the observable universe. The most distant light that astrophysicists can see comes from the cosmic microwave background radiation survey. These are photons that have traveled to us from nearly the beginning of the universe. Shortly after the Big Bang, the universe was too dense, and therefore too crowded with energy/particle soup, for light to travel very far before it was either scattered or absorbed by a particle. About 380,000 years after the birth of the universe, it became translucent enough that light could travel sorta freely for the first time without hitting anything. The resulting microwave emissions from what was essentially super-hot Hydrogen-based particle soup is the hard limit of what we can ever hope to see in any direction we point our telescopes. The cosmic microwave background is like a wall that we can never see beyond. There simply wasn’t anything to be “seen” before that. That brings us to…
So What The Frak Is The Observable Universe?
Each of the yellow or red bumps seen on the image above, has, by now, 13.7 billion years later, become a supercluster of galaxies. In the meantime the continued expansion of the universe would have resulted in those superclusters of galaxies being 46.5 billion light years from us at this time.
This gets a little tricky. The observable universe is what people are generally talking about when they use the phrase “The Universe”. It’s also referred to as the Hubble Volume. Astronomers have measured the age of the universe to be about 14 billion years old. Because of the constant between distance and the speed of light, it stands to reason that we can theoretically look at a region of space that lies 14 billion light-years away. …so we should be able to see the whole universe, right? Not even fracking close, yo. ‘cuz… ya know… “time.” As mentioned above and illustrated on the right, the WMAP survey shows the cosmic microwave radiation background at a diameter of 13.7×2 or 27.4ish billion light years approximately 380,000 years after the Big Bang. First of all, we need to know how big the universe actually was at 380,000 years old… and we don’t. I mean we can’t even ballpark it. Are you ready to get loco, essay? The singularity that spawned the big bang is described as being infinitely dense and expanding exponentially. Infinity is a really big number. Adding an exponent to it is almost meaningless, when you think about it. Thus, at 380,000 years, the mere blink of an eye in cosmic terms, the universe may have already been infinite. Another way to say that is that space-time started out in an infinitely large state, and the “Big Bang” happened everywhere at once. Crazy as it sounds, that’s NASA’s take on it at present. …but I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s just focus on the observable universe for now. So at 380,000 years we had a 13.7ish billion light-year radius in which light could ever possibly reach us. These are the first photons that could reach us… the initial Hubble Volume. …but that was 13.7 billion years ago. While the initial sphere appears over 27 billion light-years in diameter, it is far larger larger than that today. Let’s take a feature at the very edge of that initial Hubble Volume, and say that it has a photon leaving it in our direction TODAY. We know that the universe is expanding, and that that expansion is now accelerating. While scientists might see a spot that lay 13.7 billion light-years from Earth 380,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe has continued to expand over its lifetime. Today, that same spot is 46 billion light-years away, making the diameter of our original observable universe a sphere around 92 billion light-years across. That little photon leaving today will never reach us. Yes, if it had left 13.7 billion years ago it could have (barely), but the effect of space expanding BETWEEN us and that photon means that in 46 billion years, when that photon OUGHT to have reached us, it will actually have further to go to get to us than the day it left the edge of, what was once, the edge of the observable universe. What this means is that objects at the edge of the WMAP image to the right are presently moving away from us faster than the speed of light in relative terms (they are not traveling through space faster than the speed of light, rather, space is effectively expanding at a rate, relative to us and the object, that is faster than the speed of light when you only consider the rate of increasing distance between Earth and the object). In effect, this means as time passes we can see less and less of what was formerly the observable universe. Moreover, as the expansion of space-time accelerates, the incidental distance from us to the edge of the observable universe becomes shorter and shorter. It’s a little unnerving. The walls man…. it’s like the walls are closing in on me! It’s not “like” that. It is that.
The video below explains this phenomena graphically. Ignore the annoying-as-hell narration, stuttering, and fuck-ups (his numbers get off a bit and he doesn’t take some things into account, but conceptually with regards to space expanding you get the idea). He’s a horrible presenter, but it should make what I’ve described a little easier to grasp in the case that I haven’t been clear.
It bares mention that what you see when you look up at the stars at night is NOT “the observable universe”. In fact, you might be surprised to know just how little of the universe you can see with your naked eye. The observable universe is simply the theoretical limit of how far away a photon could ever reach us given the accelerating expansion of space-time. In fact, and this is probably another digression, you can see very little when you look up. It’s not exactly distance, but rather the luminosity of the object you’re looking at that limits your vision. For instance, you can see the Andromeda Galaxy, and that’s over 2.5 million light-years away. However, the majority of the stars we see in the night sky are limited to a very “small” chunk of our galaxy. Click the image to the right for a larger view.
If the Andromeda Galaxy were much much brighter than it is, it would look about like this in our night sky. It’s the collective luminosity of all those billions of stars that let you make out a faint murky cloudy blob of light at 2.5 million light years. In about 4 billion years, the Milky Way will collide with this galaxy. Don’t expect a fireball though: these modest-size galaxies will pass through one another like ghosts. In this collision, the Earth and it’s solar system could be flung out into intergalactic space. Over cosmic timescales the Earth really lives on a knife’s edge. At least we aren’t in a binary system…
Beyond The Outer Rim, We Go With The Dark Flow
I should say this again: the observable universe is generally what people are talking about when they say “The Universe.” Scientists don’t like to speak about things that cannot be observed, generally. Some others don’t make the distinction between the observable universe and that which lies beyond, and so when they use the phrase, they really just don’t know what they are talking about. Now you do. That was all I really wanted to establish with you. What we can say absolutely, assuming the Big Bang theory is correct, is that there is a lot more universe out there than what we will ever be able to see from the vantage point of Earth. There is a lot more space… far more galaxies, superclusters, and filaments than anyone could possibly imagine beyond the observable universe. If they could imagine it, I suspect the information density in their head would be so great that their head would collapse into a black hole destroying the Earth and probably our whole solar system. …but just for fun, let’s talk about two more things that I think are kind of neat about the space outside of the Hubble Volume: Flat space, and The Dark Flow.
However, before I get into that: a brief rant. “Dark”, as it applies to astrophysics, can just as easily be substituted with “OMGWTFBBQ we don’t know what it is”. That’s true of so-called Dark Energy, which we may as well be calling “The Force” at present (midichlorians are just as likely an explanation as anything at this point); also of Dark Matter, which may or may not be conventional matter (probably not, but who knows; could be peanut butter). We can’t directly detect either. Also: dark energy plus dark matter constitute 95.1% of the total mass–energy content of the universe. As of this writing, our universe is still that mysterious. Right… moving on.
Among other revelations, the data from WMAP revealed a much more precise estimate for the age of the universe — 13.7 billion years — and confirmed that about 95 percent of it is composed of mind-boggling stuff called dark matter and dark energy. WMAP data also helped NASA scientists nail down the curvature of space to within 0.4 percent of “flat,” and pinpoint the time when the universe began to emerge from the cosmic dark ages (about 400 million years after the Big Bang).
Closed universe (top), open universe (middle), and flat universe (bottom). ~NASA
The above is a rather striking statement when you really think about it. Astrophysicists think space might be infinite, with energy, galaxies, filaments, etc… distributed pretty much the same as it is in the observable universe. In fact, that’s the running consensus at the moment. It’s easy to see why this is their thinking, with regard to the uniformity, that is. It is, after all, what we see in the observable universe. I’m personally of the opinion that there’s a huge logical flaw in that. I would liken such a conclusion to focusing solely on a single grain of sand on a beach, and trying to infer from that there’s a city called Miami, Florida 10 miles up the coast. There is now evidence suggesting everything in the observable universe is getting pulled along with what is described as the “OMGWTFBBQ we don’t know what it is Dark Flow”. Odd implications there, but more on that in a minute. Also, if the universe is flat and infinite, there are some very strange implications that would necessarily go along with it. Beyond the Hubble Volume you won’t just find more galaxies and planets that are different. You will eventually find every possible thing that could possibly exist. Read that again and let it sink in. Everything. In fact, cosmologists think that if one were to go far enough, you will find another Hubble Volume that is perfectly identical to ours. You would find one with another you. Exactly you. Also: another you that is serving a life term in jail. Another you that is richer than Bill Gates. Another you sleeping in the gutter of a post apocalyptic Mad Max style hell-hole. You get the idea. That’s the power of “infinite.” Going back to the Fermi Paradox, when you add an infinity variable in there the equation becomes: Probability and number of Type III civilizations = YES x infinity. Math don’t lie, yo.
Going back to the Dark Flow, in 2008, astronomers discovered galactic clusters were all streaming in the same direction at immense speed, over two million miles per hour. They were comparing present observations of these objects to the data from WMAP (You can read the actual primary paper here, if you’re interested). New observations in 2010 confirmed this phenomenon, known as Dark Flow. This runs contrary to the “uniform universe” thinking. There is NOTHING in the observable universe remotely powerful enough to cause such a phenomena (that we are presently aware of). From this we can infer that *something* is pulling everything in the observable universe in a certain direction, and that *something* is 1) off camera (outside of anything we could ever observe unless someone builds a legit warp or FTL drive) and 2) totally bat-shit crazy. It could be absolutely anything. Whatever it is, we’ve never and will never see anything like it (sans warp). It could be some kind of crazy powerful wormhole, something that makes a super massive black hole look like a fleck of lint, a giant drainpipe to another dimension, another universe bumping into ours… anything. We have absolutely no context for it. …and yet SOMETHING seems to be there. This also suggests that the universe isn’t as conformal as we thought, which again, gives rise to the inevitability of tons of bat-shit crazy stuff we’ll never be able to even infer as existing in our universe once infinity is part of the equation. The graphic below only vaguely hints at it (and rightfully so because OMGWTFBBQ), but it’s still a useful illustration, I think. (One quick note… the “Cosmic Horizon” is the edge of the observable universe as of 13.7 billion years ago. The difference between the current edge of the Hubble Volume and the “Cosmic Horizon” is how much space has expanded in the intervening years. As you can see, most of what was the observable universe 13.7 billion years ago is no longer observable. /sadpanda || I’m noting this because the graphic below suggests that whatever is responsible for the Dark Flow may lie inside the Cosmic Horizon, and there is absolutely no evidence for that. In fact, we have far more evidence suggesting it lies well outside that radius (such an object/phenomena would have shown up in the WMAP survey). I’m sure it’s an unintentional oversight by whomever created that graphic, but it bares mention. If we wanted to get really picky, and I say “why not?”, there should not be any “space ripples” within the Cosmic Horizon at all. Finally, this graphic is obviously not to scale in any way.)
I guess the tl;dr; here is that you should express extreme skepticism when someone says something is “impossible” to you henceforth, especially having the craziness that is our extra-observable universe in mind. Also: space is big. Really big. Also: Star Wars almost certainly happened… a long time ago, in a galaxy crazy far away (except for the shit that broke the laws of physics).
Beyond The Intended Scope Of This Post
Am I sleeping better now knowing this? No. I am not.
Space-time is expanding, and that expansion is accelerating, right? Look at the model of our observable universe. In a few billion years, we’ll only be able to see the few galaxies that are gravitationally bound to us. Kind of a scary thought. It gets worse: let’s assume space-time expansion continues to accelerate at it’s present rate. Eventually space will be expanding beyond the speed of light at any and every scale. Basically, if nothing changes, there will be a vacuum collapse and every atom and electron in the universe will be ripped apart at beyond the speed of light. It may only be 22 billion years away… so despite how eternal our infinite universe feels, the whole sha-bang (Big Bang sha-bang) may only last for a total of 36 billion years or so. Give or take.
In Marcelo M. Disconzi, Thomas W. Kephart, and Robert J. Scherrer’s scenario for w = −1.5, the galaxies would first be separated from each other. About 60 million years before the end, gravity would be too weak to hold the Milky Way and other individual galaxies together. Approximately three months before the end, the Solar System (or systems similar to our own at this time, as the fate of the Solar System 22 billion years in the future is questionable) would be gravitationally unbound. In the last minutes, stars and planets would be torn apart, and an instant before the end, atoms would be destroyed.
That would really suck. …seems like a bit of a waste.
tl;dr; The Dark Flow would be a sweet name for a goth down-tempo electro band.