Want to Measure the Size of Space?

Wednesday November 27, 2019 Written by James

It probably comes as no surprise that space is big. The clue’s in the title. But just how big is a difficult question. And besides, when someone shows you a picture of Jupiter or Sagittarius A* (a supermassive black hole that will one day devour us all) you have nothing to compare it to. Your brain knows that planets are large, as a rule, but there’s no proper frame of reference.

American computer scientist Neal Agarwal decided to remedy this by building the website The Size of Space, which tries to capture the essential ‘largeness’ of celestial bodies. Using your keyboard arrow keys, you can scroll horizontally from an astronaut (approximate size: six feet)…to the Hubble Space Telescope…to the asteroid Bennu…to Deimos, one of the moons of Mars, named after a figure of dread in Greek mythology.

And this is appropriate, because as you’re scrolling through planets, watching things get larger and larger each time, you do get a rising sense of existential dread. We live on Earth, which everybody knows is rather petite, universally speaking, but seeing exactly how small we are produces agoraphobia on a galactic scale.

The rule of space seems to be the same as the ocean: there’s always a bigger fish.