Zoom Zoom Zooming Into a Galaxy Cluster

At the beginning, it looks like Windows 3.1 Starfield screensaver. Then you realize what's going on: Those are not stars—they are galaxies. By the end, when the heart of the galaxy cluster is revealed, your brain explodes.

This trip into Abell 315—a galaxy cluster located about two billion light-years away from Earth—was taken by the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at La Silla Observatory in Chile. It is mind blowing on its own right, but when I read that the survey area is just the size of a full Moon, all my brain functions shut down and I woke up ten minutes later with my notebook's keyboard carved into my face. [Physorg]

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DISCUSSION

The vastness of space is epic, but it's almost dwarfed by the vastness of time. We're going on, what, 14 billion years since the big bang? Stop and think for a moment about how long 14 billion years really is.

Even if we assume that life is a relatively common phenomenon in the universe, the size of space and the length of time line up to create a situation where it's virtually impossible that mankind will ever encounter alien life, which kind of bums me out.

Consider that maybe life is so common that we have been preceded in the universe by, say, two thousand equally advanced civilizations with their own history and future every bit as detailed as our own. Even if every civilization to pop up in the universe were to last for millions of years, that's still such a short span of time that it's totally within the realm of reason that we are the single only civilization that happens to exist in the entire vastness of space at this moment.

And even if our civilization thrives for another few million years (it's difficult to comprehend just a few hundred years into the future, much less a thousand or multiple millions) and we colonize hundreds of solar systems throughout our galaxy, chances are pretty good that we'd never meet anybody out there because the previous alien civilization died out millions of years ago, and the next one won't begin to evolve for a few million years after we're all dead. And even if you consider the possibility that two races have cropped up at precisely the same tiny moment in the history of time, what are the chances that the other one is less than 2 billion lightyears away?

Okay, two thousand is a pretty arbitrary number, and it's possible that there have been, in fact, millions of intelligent species that have evolved throughout time, but given how much time there is to fill up and how much space there is to exist in, I can't even fathom how it would be mathematically feasible for two alien races to ever encounter eachother. Life would have to be so common that it is created from scratch every few seconds, and that just doesn't seem to be the case based on what we can observe from here.