How Large is the Universe?

For centuries, humanity has been utterly transfixed by the cosmos, with generations of astronomers, philosophers and everyday ponderers striving to better understand the grand capsule of our existence. And yet to this day, some of the most basic, fundamental qualities of the universe remain a mystery. How Large is the Universe? is a fascinating 20-minute documentary by Thomas Lucas and Dave Brody exploring the universe’s immense scale of distance and time.

“Recent precision measurements gathered by the Hubble space telescope and other instruments have brought a consensus that the universe dates back 13.7 billion years. Its radius, then, is the distance a beam of light would have traveled in that time – 13.7 billion light years. That works out to about 1.3 quadrillion kilometers. In fact, it’s even bigger – much bigger. How it got so large, so fast, was until recently a deep mystery.”

For more on the subject, see these five fascinating ways to grasp the size and scale of the universe.

Maria Popova is the founder and editor in chief of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness. She writes for Wired UK, GOOD Magazine and DesignObserver, and spends a great deal of time on Twitter.



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  1. gregorylent says . . . | December 27, 2010 / 8:30 am

    great. but, why do you assume there is only one universe?

  2. Cheryl Kreiser says . . . | December 27, 2010 / 9:25 am

    Thanks! I’m always looking for great visuals to use in my classroom.
    Greg, good point.

  3. Mike says . . . | December 27, 2010 / 2:01 pm

    Gregory,
    The roots of the word “universe” are the Latin “unus” (one) and “versus” (to turn). It basically means “everything rolled into one.” So of course there is only one universe–by definition. Speculations of a possible “multiverse” are a different matter.

  4. naate says . . . | July 18, 2011 / 1:11 pm

    There is an error in this video @3:43. The radius of the observable universe is not 13.7 billion light years, but 36.5 billion light years. The narrator correctly states that the age of the universe and its rate of expansion are the two relevant factors in determining the size of the observable universe, and then proceeds to ignore the latter factor by claiming that it has a radius of 13.7 billion light years. see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_horizon#Misconceptions
    @greg: have you found any others?

  5. naate says . . . | July 18, 2011 / 1:16 pm

    woops jumped the gun, should have watched the whole thing before commenting

  6. Michael says . . . | January 1, 2012 / 7:02 pm

    Amazing stuff! Last comment about our place in this story. Great! I go for elevating us.

  7. ROWLAND HILL says . . . | January 2, 2012 / 3:28 am

    Does the universe rotate? What is the velocity of rotation of a point on its outermost circumference? Is the angular momentum of rotation increasing?

  8. j lewis says . . . | October 4, 2012 / 9:40 am

    Rather than rotating, current evidence would suggest that it is flattening out, smeared outwards in all directions as jam by a knife.

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