Cosmic Sightseeing 4

Time, Life and the History of the Universe in One Easy Bar Graph



I read in Professor Brian Cox’s “The Wonders of the Universe” that the amount of time that the Universe will be hospitable to life is a very small fraction of Time itself—Time being from the very beginning of the Big Bang, to the moment when the Universe completely dissolves away.

I wanted to sketch it out as a bar graph, with the blue area being the amount of time that Life as we know it will be possible anywhere in the Universe, and the red bar being Time itself—from the Big Bang until the distant future when the last bits of matter and energy dissipate into nothingness.

But, to make it to scale…the red bar would need to be very, very long. I was going to need a really wide piece of paper.

If I make the blue area 1 centimeter wide, how wide would my paper need to be to fit the entire red bar of Time? Guess the closest width:

a. 10 meters

b. 10 kilometers

c. ten thousand kilometers

d. 1 million kilometers

e. so freaking wide it would not fit into the observable Universe


I was so surprised at my answer…but then I’m just an artist/writer, not a mathematician. Help me figure out if I’m right or wrong!

I’ll give you the following numbers:

Professor Cox’s fraction of time is: one-thousandth of a billion billion billionth, billion billion billionth, billion billion billionth, of one percent.

The farthest distance we have observed in the Universe is approximately 10 to the 27th power of meters (that’s a 1 with 27 zeros.)

The Universe is expected to dissipate in around 10 to the 100th power of years (a 1 with 100 zeros.)

And, for those of you who were stumped on the quiz from the last post…I’m giving you a bit more time to ponder it. Check back next week!

4 thoughts on “Cosmic Sightseeing 4

  1. But…. what if? What If time – instead of being a bar – is a sphere instead? What If it’s not linear at all? What If all we need to do to be anywhere, anytime, in any combination of possibilities, is to be able to shift from one Vibrating String to another?

    Maybe we already do that and just don’t know.

    • Interesting, Jim…maybe so. This may work to our advantage. Maybe somewhere in another space/time, we’re all more intelligent and sensible and are not running our planet into ruin. By-the-way…you’re not working on a sci-fi novel, are you? Just a feeling I have.

    • OK…
      A. Universe: from Beginning to End, lasts a really really really long time.

      B. Life in the Universe: from one-celled algae, through all the stages of evolution, all the way to when Life is no longer possible because the Universe is too cold and inhospitable…does not last very long at all, in comparison to A. B = one-thousandth of a billion billion billionth, billion billion billionth, billion billion billionth, of one percent of A.

      C. If, in order to show the comparison graphically on a bar graph, B = 1 centimeter, how wide does the paper need to be to fit A?

      D. EXTRA HINT: B written in numerals is 10 to the negative 83rd power, or a decimal point with 83 zeros and a 1.

      E. And, again, I’m only an artist, not a mathematician, so I really need everyone’s help to check my results. They were unbelievable!

      F. Professor Cox is kind of a cool guy, like a modern day Carl Sagan. I always liked Carl Sagan because he made science interesting to ordinary people like me. Cox is like that, too.

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