A billion billion billion billion billion times bigger…

Book 7 of S104: Exploring Science is entitled, rather niftily, “From Quarks to Quasars”.

Quarks are the smallest things of all, the fundamental constituents of the Universe, measuring 10-19 m across; quasars are the most distant objects we can observe, and are around 1026 m away.

There’s really no way to get your head around these extremes of sizes; suffice it to say that quasars are a billion billion billion billion billion times larger than quarks. Even analogies are impossible. Imagine a marble and a… no. There’s nothing big enough. Or far away enough. Imagine a marble and something MUCH further than a quasar?

“Common sense is the deposit of prejudice laid down in the mind before the age of eighteen.” Albert Einstein

Well, leaving aside ludicrous quantities of billion, cosmology is the study of the very, very large and particle physics is the study of the very, very small. This aspect of the module combines both of these studies into one neat package, and that package helps to answer the fundamental questions:

  • How does the Universe behave?
  • What rules does it follow? Or is it an anarchist, breaking glasses, listening to the Sex Pistols, and throwing sofas out of hotel windows?
  • How does the Universe change with time?

I’ll get back to you on those when I’ve worked out the answers. Quantum physics will help.

In the meantime, here’s a philosophical take on the very, very small by those reknowned poets, They Might Be Giants:

Looking at the nature of the Universe takes you outside of the everyday into the realm of the fascinating, the baffling, and the just-plain-weird. Particles that are in two places at once; antimatter; eleven-dimensional space-time.

“If quantum physics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.” Niels Bohr

Hang on to your hats, because Kansas is about to disappear…

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6 responses to “A billion billion billion billion billion times bigger…

  1. This is why I love science! Are you working on a course with the Open University?

    • Hi Michael,

      Apologies for the late reply – I’ve been in the Highlands of Scotland for two weeks, and have been blissfully devoid of technology!

      I’m studying S104 Exploring Science, working towards a BSc in Natural Sciences. Next stop is S216 Environmental Science in February. I’m LOVING it!

      Vicky

  2. Thanks for summinng up the first chapters of Book 7 for me – great for consolidating my learning! Might have to stick with you (what course are you studying next?!)

    • Hi Kate,

      I’m glad you found it useful! I’m writing about the course with the same aim for myself really, to ensure I’ve understood everything, as well as (hopefully) to help and encourage others on the course. And, of course, because I enjoy writing!

      S216 Environmental Science is my next stop, in February 2012. So a few months’ welcome break in between, during which time I’ll try and get some pre-reading in. And possibly do a photography course.

      What is your next stop? Are you enjoying S104?

      Vicky

  3. Oh yes, finding S104 very stimulating. I particularly loved the last book, and book 5. Struggling slightly at the moment though.. not sure if it is quantum physics, or having to study whilst on holiday in France (inbetween day trips out, swimming in the pool and having to amuse my daughter!).

    Sticking with level 1 next and doing ‘journeys through a changing world’ in october soon as S104 ends (doing them back to back so don’t have to work through the summer next year! Studying when my daughter is home from kindergarten is a bit of a challenge!).

    Happy studying 😉

  4. Are you on Facebook Kate? If so, take a look at our S104 group. It’s been really helpful, very entertaining, and I’ve made a few online buddies through it! There’ll probably be one for your next course too.

    Good luck with it! 🙂

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