Want to change your perspective on your existence? The following images will certainly help. Whether you are feeling a little overwhelmed or are "on top of the world", it's good to get some perspective from time to time. The following will take you on a journey through time and space will both inspire and depress you in equal measures.
This article will include photos, composite images, memes and artistic impressions. We've also spattered the article with some interesting trivia too, aren't we good to you. We will cover aspects of astrophysics, geology, evolution and even some philosophy and ethics. Eclectic to say the least.
Strap in, get comfy and enjoy the ride. You special yet insignificant people you ;)
[Image Source: VideoSpaceFX/YouTube]
Your place in time
"We must always remember the past or be doomed to repeat it", or something like that. It's probably more accurate to say "We must always remember the past because we are living it". It is very easy for us to forget where we came from, the marvel of our existence and the potential of our future. Let's see if a journey through time can help you change your perspective on your existence.
1. The Birth of Everything
[Image Source: NASA]
The above image, well composite, is a Hubble Space Telescope view of a huge mass of galaxy clusters, known as MACS J0416.1-2403. These are located roughly 4 billion light-years from Earth. Amazingly it is estimated that they weigh as much as a million billion suns. The inset is the most important part, however. It is extremely faint and very far away indeed. What is most amazing about it is that this area existed only 400 million years after the big bang. It was captured because the gravitational lens of Hubble made the galaxy appear 20 times brighter than normal.
Amazing isn't it? We are actually looking back to the beginning of everything we know, more or less. As an aside the team nicknamed the object Tayna. This means "first-born" in Aymara which is the language of the Andes and Altiplano regions of South America.
2. Birth of Earth
[Image Source: Nature]
What, a piece of rock? Great... In actual fact, it's a mineral ok (said the grumpy geologist in me), and secondly, this humble looking piece of Zircon is thought to be the oldest existing thing on the planet. It has been dated to 4.4 billion years ago (technically speaking 4.374 +/- 0.006 billion years). Granted, its age is somewhat contentious but that doesn't matter for our purposes, too much. Our planet is thought to have formed around 4.5 billion years ago and this, if correct, would have formed very soon after that event. Its age would make it 100 million years younger than the Earth-Moon system and it is probably a piece of the oldest continental crust.
The Earth's birth, so to speak, may seem to have occurred a long time ago, but it's only "relatively recently" in the Universe's history. Estimates suggest the Big Bang occurred around 13.8 Billion years ago. The entire history of the Earth to date could have been run twice before the Earth was even formed, incredible. Are we helping you change your perspective on your existence yet? No? Let's carry on.
3. The rise of the vertebrates
Pikaia reconstruction [Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]
This is the earliest, to date, ancestor of true chordates ever discovered. These proto-vertebrates were the first animals to have a distinct structure along their back that would ultimately become your spine. This might not sound like much, but you are looking at the ancestor of all vertebrate animals on Earth. Pikaia was originally found in 1911 within the Mid Cambrian Burgess Shale deposits. That makes it around 505 million years old. These early proto-vertebrates are very rarely preserved. They had no solid bone or teeth so preservation of these fleshy animals is quite amazing.
The evolution of this creature changed the game for animals forever. Its ancestors would dominate the animal kingdom for the rest of known history from fish to reptiles to mammals, incredible when you think about it. We simply wouldn't exist without this humble little creature. There is more to this than you think. We have the ability to look at inanimate things like fossils and using some brain power, to realize we are looking at "snap shots" of our own development and history. Isn't that amazing? Nothing like some ancient history to change your perspective on your existence.
4. The first art
[Image Source: Kinez Riza via SmithsonianMag]
The above image is thought to be one of the oldest examples of cave art in the world. It is on a cave wall in Indonesia and is at least 39,900 years old. There are some older examples in El Castillo, Northern Spain, but these are more expressive than simple geometric shapes. You may ask what's so important about this? Children do this all the time with paint and paper. Just think about what this means. These are the very first examples of art we know of.
Examples like this reveal to us that our species had reached a level where it could perform tasks not essential to survival. They were experimenting with techniques and designs apparently just for the "fun" of it. Our ancestors were able to think symbolically and creatively. An important step towards our technological advancement over the following millennia. It is actually truly remarkable and shows us that we, as far as can be determined, are the only animals who demonstrate this kind of thinking.
5. What makes you, you
[Image Source: Rev314159/Flickr]
Hey, you! Here you are. Well, we hope not, if this was your brain you'd likely not be reading this. Anyway, everything that makes you, well you, is contained in this squidgy piece of tissue. All your thoughts, dreams, moral judgments, ability to communicate, well everything is dictated by this thing. Isn't that incredible? It is the product of billions of years of death and birth of stars and life forms. The best part is you don't need to do anything to get one, just be lucky enough to be born. Your greatest gift and it was free.
On average they weigh about 1.4 kilograms and consists of 100 billion nerve cells that work together to keep you alive and experience living. Is any of this starting to change your perspective on your existence yet?
6. What do you see?
[Image Source: imgur]
What is amazing about the above meme is that it covers a lot of subjects, especially relating to perspective. Not only does it show you how your brain can make sense of this optical illusion, but it also offers some interesting lessons on your thoughts/reasoning. Just think about that. You can see that both of these gentlemen are correct, from their perspective. At the same time, you are able to conceptualize 3D objects on a 2D image. Incredible.
The lesson to be learned is that whatever your views or opinions are, there can be equally valid opposing ones.
7. We are not alone
Although we are an incredible species, we may not be as special as we think. The above image is of an orangutan in Borneo doing something out of the ordinary. This cheeky chappy watched local fishermen using spears to fish. Guess what? The orangutan was later spotted attempting to copy them. Granted, it's "fishing" for fish that are already trapped inside a net, but it is clear that the orangutan can understand what the fishermen were attempting to do.
Our closest relatives, the primates, have shown a wide variety of tool use. More and more examples are being observed every year. Just think about that. In a way, we could be observing, in real time, our early hominid evolution of tool use.
It is unclear if apes have always had this ability, or like the orangutan above, have started to mimic our behavior. Whichever is the case, the very fact they can solve problems with tools is mind-blowing.
8. Our place in time
[Image Source: Woudloper/Wikimedia Commons]
Deep time is a hard concept to appreciate sometimes. Literature and documentaries will throw around several million years here, a couple of billion there. Just numbers. The above timeline, though many variations exist, helps us put things into perspective. Everything we as a species have created has been accomplished in an incredibly short period of time. It's almost insignificant compared to the long history of our planet. As short as our time has been on Earth, our accomplishments have been extraordinary. All of this time, all of this development, is your heritage, your inheritance and your gift to give to future generations.
9. Leaving home
[Image Source: NASA/Wikimedia Commons]
The above image is of Buzz Aldrin's bootprint during his Apollo 11 mission to the Moon. Both Buzz and Neil Armstrong made history on July the 20th 1969 by becoming the first humans to set foot on another celestial body. The importance of this event, conspiracy theories aside, cannot be understated. Our species has managed to actually leave its home planet, travel through the void of space, and walk around on another object in space.
The creativity and imagination needed to perform this task is a real testament to our ancient ancestors. It is the ultimate compliment to their ingenuity and sacrifices. It is literally a declaration of intent, a challenge to the Universe, that we are here and we are coming.
10. With great power comes great responsibility
[Image Source: imgur]
Here is an image sure to change your perspective on your existence. This is a photo of a nuclear shadow on the streets of Hiroshima. You can still see these around the city today. It is arguably a more potent image than the classic mushroom clouds we are so familiar with. Such is the technological advancement of our species that is difficult for us to appreciate just how dangerous we have become. The moment we managed to harness the power of the atom was a momentous one set to change our future forever. So destructive are these weapons that we might be the first species in history to make ourselves extinct by our own hands.
We must all self-reflect at times and recognize that we are evolved apes with the very real potential for violence. But now the stakes are very high indeed. We all have a dark side.
Your place in space
It is important to remember the past. But it is also good to get some perspective on the grander scheme of things. Let's go on a journey through space.
1. The mother planet
The Blue Marble 2002 [Image Source: NASA's Earth Observatory]
What better way to change your perspective on your existence than seeing Earth from orbit. A little cliche but an important one to include. We should never forget the majesty of our home planet. The only planet, confirmed to date, to nurture and harbor life. Absolutely incredible when you think about it. If/when extraterrestrial life is discovered it is unlikely to dull the importance of Earth to our species, it is after all forever the planet of our birth.
As an aside, the image used above is actually a composite with a layer of clouds added digitally later. It is often cited by conspiracy theorists as "proof" that the Earth is actually flat as the true shape has never been documented. Ahem, anyway moving on swiftly.
2. Mother Earth from the Moon
Earthrise 1968 [Image Source: NASA]
Wasn't the Earth enough for you? Tough crowd, we'll "up the ante" then. Here's another famous image, Mother Earth from the Moon. It was taken during the Apollo 8 manned mission to the moon. Jim Lovell, the mission's pilot, famously said in a live broadcast "The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth". Yep, we couldn't put it better ourselves.
3. Distance between Earth and our (biggest) Moon
Not to scale [Image Source: Phil Plait/slate]
Biggest, what? Yes, there is more than one moon, well sort of. The Moon's cousin is pretty tiny. 3753 Cruithne is technically not a moon but is a natural satellite, albeit with a crazy orbit of our homeworld. Cool eh? Anyway, Earthrise is an awe-inspiring image but belies the actual distance involved. In fact, this distance does vary over the year and has actually been increasing over time.
4. And to scale (more or less)
[Image Source: Shaddow24/deviantart]
As much as the last image may have helped change your perspective on your existence, it is difficult to actually appreciate the distance involved. The Moon is about 30 Earth's diameter's away, or 110.5 Moon's if you prefer that unit of celestial body measurement. Amazing how the moon "seems" so close but is actually pretty far away.
5. Earth from Saturn
[Image Source: NASA]
If the last image wasn't enough to change your perspective on your existence, how about looking at Earth from Saturn? The Cassini probe took his stunning image of Saturn's rings and our humble planet. Even at this distance, you can see why we call it the Blue Planet. You'd be excused for thinking it was just "another" star in the night's sky. What an absolutely stunning picture, the Earth looks so insignificant, you'd almost miss it.
6. Earth compared to our sun
[Image Source: SOHO]
Giver of light and sustainer of life on our planet, the Egyptians were right to worship it. Obviously, the above image is a composite one but it certainly shows just how big our sun actually is. In fact, it would take over 1 million Earth's to even come close. 1 Million! Let that sink in. If that doesn't change your perspective on your existence, we're not sure what will.
Our precious Sun is a mere 1,287,000 times bigger than our home planet. Our Sun actually constitutes around 98% of the mass of our solar system. Want some more facts? Alrighty then. The Sun's surface is about 5537 degrees Celsius with her sore reaching a stunning 15 million degrees Celsius, holy cow! To maintain this kind of temperature, the Sun consumes around 7 million tons of hydrogen gas, every second. Madness.
7. Our sun is nothing special either
[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]
One of the biggest stars in our Galaxy is VY Canis Majoris. This giant is around 1,000,000,000 times larger than our rather insignificant star. It is around 4,000 light-years from Earth and can be found in the constellation Canis Major. "She" is technically a red hyper giant with a radius 1,500 times the size of our Sun. These are extremely rare stars and most other stars appear to be smaller than our own. Given the size of this beast, rough estimates indicate it will burn through its reservoir of fuel within a few million years. This star is set to reach the end of its lifespan within the next 100,000 years.
Have we succeeded in helping change your perspective on your existence yet? No? You're a tough nut to crack, ok let's move on.
8. Our place in the Milky Way
Our view of the complete celestial sphere of the Milky Way from Earth
[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]
Ok, now we are far from home. This image should certainly help change your perspective on your existence. So far we've started to get an appreciation of the scale of the Universe we live in. What we have seen so far pales in comparison to the size of our galaxy, The Milky Way. If you shrank the Sun to the size of a white blood cell, the Milky Way, on the same scale, would be about the size of the United States. Cripes.
The above image is a composite of stitched images that have been transformed into a panoramic view. The images were mainly taken from the ESO observatory in Chile over a period of 120 hours over several weeks. Beautiful isn't it?
9. The Milky Way isn't that big either
[Image Source: .areavoices]
As impressive as the Milky Way is, there are some giants out there. IC 1011, which is about 1 Billion light-years away, simply dwarves our own. This monster is the single largest galaxy ever found in our observable universe. It is estimated that its mass is about a 100 trillion stars. It is thought that the galaxy is so large that at its widest point the galaxy is about 2 million light-years from its core. Absolutely incredible. We realize we are just throwing enormous numbers at you now, some are so huge it is almost impossible to be able to envisage them. Such is the scale of the Universe. Wow, just wow.
10. Our place in the observable Universe
[Image Source: Andrew Z. Colvin/Wikimedia Commons]
It is important to make the distinction of the observable Universe. Light takes time to travel and it is conceivable that much of the Universe is yet to actually be observed. The light from these stars and galaxies simply hasn't had enough time to reach us, if it ever will. The Universe is expanding at such a great speed that the light from stars and galaxies beyond those we can see may never be known to us. Absolutely mind blowing when you think about it. Carl Sagan famously said that there are more stars in the Universe than there are grains of sand on Earth. Just think about that for a second.
Has your perspective changed?
If the above hasn't helped change your perspective on your existence, we are not sure what will. Don't feel too bad. As small as we are and insignificant in the greater scheme of things, we are still important in many ways. As far as we know, our planet is the only one with confirmed life. Not only that, one of those life forms has developed to such a stage that it is able to observe, explore and muse over the very nature of the Universe that birthed it.
As Carl Sagan also said:-
"We, who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the cosmos, we’ve begun — at last — to wonder about our origins.
Star stuff, contemplating the stars, organized collections of ten billion, billion, billion atoms, contemplating the evolution of matter, tracing that long path by which it arrived at consciousness here on the planet Earth and perhaps — throughout the cosmos.
Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed, not just to ourselves, but also to that cosmos — ancient and vast, from which we sprang."
Awesome, we almost teared up, thank you, Carl Sagan, we miss you.
So has this helped change your perspective on your existence? If not, why not? If so, why? We'd welcome your own suggestions of images that changed your perspective on your existence.