This logarithmic view of the Universe will blow your mind


It’s a long way from planet Earth to the edge of the universe.

Artist’s logarithmic scale conception of the observable universe. The solar system gives way to the Milky Way, which gives way to nearby galaxies that then give way to the large-scale structure and the hot, dense plasma of the Big Bang at the edge. Every line of sight we can observe contains all of these eras, but the search for the most distant object observed will not be complete until we have mapped the entire universe.

(Credit: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

Our tiny homeworld, seemingly huge, is only 12,742 km (7,917 miles) wide.

This image, taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Karen Nyberg in 2013, shows the two largest islands in the southern part of the Mascarene Plateau: Réunion, in the foreground, and Mauritius, partially covered by clouds. To see a human on Earth from the height of the ISS, a telescope the size of Hubble would be needed. The scale of a human being is less than 1/5,000,000 the scale of the Earth, but the Earth is just a proverbial drop in the cosmic ocean, measuring just over 10,000 miles in diameter.

(Credit: NASA/Karen Nyberg)

We usually think linearly: where the sun is ~ 10,000 times further away than the diameter of the earth.

The orbits of the planets in the inner solar system are not exactly circular, but they are fairly close, with Mercury and Mars showing the largest deviations and the largest ellipticities. On these “to-scale” distance scales, the individual planets, as well as even the sun, occupy only a single pixel. In many ways, a linear scale is a poor choice to represent the depths of space.

(Credit: NASA/JPL)

But cosmically, logarithmic scales — with each multiplier of “10” defining a different sign on our cosmic ruler — serve us much better.

The Earth, with a diameter of nearly 13,000 kilometers (8,000 miles), is small compared to the cosmic distances between the Earth and the Moon or, more spectacularly, the Earth and the Sun. But a logarithmic scale gives us a very different perspective, allowing us to account for disparate distance scales in a single visual image.

(Credit: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

On a logarithmic scale, the Sun, Mercury and Mars are practically equidistant.

Oort cloud

The inner solar system, including the planets, asteroids, gas giants, the Kuiper Belt and more, is minuscule in scale compared to the size of the Oort cloud. Sedna, the only large object with a very distant aphelion, may be part of the innermost part of the inner Oort cloud, but even that is disputed. On a linear scale, it is incredibly limiting to show the entire solar system in one image.

(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt)

Another factor of ~10,000 in distance brings us to the Oort cloud.

In the solar system, we usually measure distances in astronomical units (AU), where the Earth-Sun distance is 1 AU. Mercury and Mars are also about ~1 AU from Earth, with Saturn at ~10 AU, the Kuiper Belt ending before ~100 AU, and the Oort cloud largely exists at ~10,000 AU. It’s a huge distance on a linear scale, but only a small range of “factors of 10” away on a logarithmic scale.

(Credit: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

A short logarithmic jump takes us from the solar system to the stars.

This long exposure image captures a number of bright stars, star-forming regions and the plane of the Milky Way above the ALMA Observatory in the Southern Hemisphere. The nearest stars are only a few light years away: less than a factor of 10 from the edge of the Oort cloud. But more distant stars and features, still visible to the naked human eye, may instead be tens of thousands of light-years away.

(Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi (

Many of the brightest stars in Earth’s sky are less than 1,000 light-years away.

Many of the brightest stars close to Earth are members of the Orion arm, which itself is a small offshoot of the larger, larger Perseus arm of the Milky Way. From the nearest stars, a few light-years away, to these arms, a few thousand light-years away, represents only three factors of “10” on a logarithmic scale.

(Credit: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

Another small logarithmic jump brings us to our nearest spiral arms.

Gaia’s view of the entire sky of our Milky Way Galaxy and neighboring galaxies. The maps show the total brightness and color of stars (top), the total density of stars (center), and the interstellar dust filling the Milky Way (bottom). Note that on average there are about 10 million stars in every square degree, but some regions, such as the galactic plane or the galactic center, have stellar densities well above the general average.

(Credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC)

Behind it lies the entire Local Galactic Group.

Perseus’ spiral arm leads into the entire Milky Way, while other galaxies in the Local Group are only a single factor “10” beyond the entire Milky Way. A factor of 10 other than that takes us to large galactic groups, even approaching the nearest cluster of galaxies.

(Credit: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

Neighboring galaxies are quickly becoming ubiquitous.

Our local supercluster, Laniakea, contains the Milky Way, our local group, the Virgo cluster, and many smaller groups and clusters on the fringes, including the M81 group. However, each group and cluster is bound only to itself and will be driven from the others because of dark energy and our expanding universe. After 100 billion years, even the closest galaxy outside our own local group will be about a billion light-years away, making it many thousands and possibly millions of times fainter than the nearest galaxies appear today.

(Credit: Andrew Z. Colvin/Wikimedia Commons)

Subsequent cosmic steps reveal large-scale clustering of galaxies.

There are only a few factors of “10” logarithmic distance that separate the nearest galaxies, which are a few hundred thousand to a few million light-years away, from large-scale clustering features on the scale of hundreds of millions or possibly a billion light-years. At these scales, the largest bound features of the universe begin to come into view.

(Credit: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

Finally, the greatest structures of all are revealed: the great cosmic web.

The growth of the cosmic web and large-scale structure in the universe, shown here with the expansion itself scaled out, causes the universe to become more clustered and lumpy over time. Initially, small density fluctuations will grow into a cosmic web with large voids separating them, but what appear to be the largest wall-like and supercluster-like structures may not be true, bound structures after all, as late dark energy drives them part.

(Credit: Volker Springel/MPE)

Many of these features are only apparent: dark energy will tear these pseudostructures apart.

The largest features seen here, such as “great walls” and “large quasar groups,” may not be cosmologically bound structures, but rather apparent pseudostructures, where gravity due to their cumulative mass will be insufficient to keep them bound. Dark energy, on the greatest cosmic scale, will drive all things apart.

(Credit: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

At the cosmic boundaries, the edges of time are revealed: the earliest moments after the hot big bang.


Our deepest studies of galaxies can reveal objects tens of billions of light-years away, but even with ideal technology there will be a big difference in distance between the farthest galaxy and the Big Bang. At some point, our instrumentation just can’t reveal them all, and the gap between the emission of the cosmic microwave background and the formation of the very first stars will finally be revealed to us for good.

(Credit: Sloan Digital Sky Survey)

Thanks to artist Pablo Carlos Budassi for creating this brilliantly illustrated cosmic journey.

This vertically oriented logarithmic map of the universe spans nearly 20 orders of magnitude and takes us from planet Earth to the edge of the visible universe. Each large “mark” on the scale bar on the right corresponds to an increase in the distance scales by a factor of 10.

(Credit: Pablo Carlos Budassi)

Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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