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Friday, June 22, 2012

What could possibly be bigger than the internet?

In case you hadn't noticed, the number of unique IP  (Internet Protocol) addresses--the numerical label assigned to each computer, printer, etc. using the internet--has expanded from 12-digits to 32. This means we have just jumped from 4.3 billion device identifiers to 340 undecillion... or 340 trillion trillion trillion for the simple minded. That is because of all the watches, cars, eyeglasses and other devices that will soon be on the web-enabled market.

Speaking of watches: Guy rushing for his train in Grand Central Station in NYC is running late. He stops a person huffing and puffing as he struggles to carry two huge suitcases that seem to stretch his arms to the floor.

"Hey friend," asks our commuter, "can you tell me what time it is?"

The man stops, grateful to be able to put his monstrously heavy suitcases on the floor and rest. As he wipes sweat from his brow, he looks as his watch and tells the harried commuter, "It is exactly 5:17.26 1/2 pm on the 365,276th day, 4th hour, 38th minute and 52 1/2 second past the birth of Christ, a Thursday in leap year 0, when the sun warmed the day to 82 degrees Fahrenheit or 27.777778 Celcius."

"Wow!" said the commuter who was literally stopped in his tracks. "Your watch told you all of that? Where can I buy a watch like that"

"Oh," says the watch owner, "you can't. You see, I invented this watch and it does EVERYTHING... but it is one of a kind and it is mine."

"But I'll give you anything for that watch," says the commuter.  "I must have that watch."

After 5 minutes of intense haggling, the commuter convinces the watch inventor--with the help of $2 million dollars--to sell him the watch. Happily, he straps it on his wrist, says "Thank you so much," and starts to run in hopes of catching his train.

"Wait... WAIT," hollers the watchmaker, pointing to the enormous suitcases sitting on the floor, "Don't you want the batteries?"

So... what could possible be bigger than the internet? Well, there is something that makes 340 undecillion seem like a walk across the street... and no, it is not our national debt.

Cosmologist at work
Cosmology (not to be confused with cosmetology, which is quite different) is the academic discipline that seeks to understand the origin, evolution, structure, and ultimate fate of the Universe at large. And cosmologists (not to be confused with cosmetologists) have come together to believe we are but one of billions and billions of universes, many of which are billions of times bigger than our own. I guess that puts the Empire State Building in its place.

Cosmetologist at work
Our Voyager 1 spacecraft,  launched from earth in 1977, is nearing the edge of our known universe where the million-mile-per-hour solar winds slows to about 250,000 miles per hour. (Take that, Katrina!) Both Voyagers 1 and 2 have enough electrical power and thruster fuel to operate at least until 2020. By that time, Voyager 1 will be 12.4 billion miles from the Sun and Voyager 2 will be 10.5 billion miles away. Eventually, the Voyagers will pass other stars. In about 40,000 years, Voyager 1 will drift within 1.6 light years (9.3 trillion miles) of AC+79 3888, a star in the constellation of Camelopardalis. In some 296,000 years, Voyager 2 will pass 4.3 light years (25 trillion miles) from Sirius, the brightest star in the sky . The Voyagers are destined—perhaps eternally—to wander the Milky Way.

No, I really didn't understand it either... but you have to be impressed by the numbers. I once heard that if, on earth, the size of our planet was represented by a grain of sand, there would not be enough earth to depict, in scale, our solar system. Now eternity... that's yet another big deal!

Yeah, I am impressed by big numbers. So there.

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