S is for Space

| March 10, 2014

I feel like I had a totally different idea in mind when I first brainstormed “space” for my “S” entry, and there are probably dozens of ways you can spin the concept in a unique way. However, this weekend I encountered a web page that is about outer space in particular, called “If the Moon Were Just 1 Pixel: A Tediously Accurate Scale of the Solar System” by designer Josh Worth.

I know it gets annoying to click links, but seriously. Click it. You don’t have to go through the whole thing, like I did, but just to get an idea. It is an accurate model of our solar system, based on scaling the size of the moon down to just a single pixel. I wasn’t timing myself, but I know for sure that I spent at least 15 minutes (if not longer) scrolling sideways all the way until Pluto (which they still “counted,” to my joy). As you travel from planet to planet, the author includes several splashes of text (quotes, jokes, or fairly philosophical ideas) that help make the journey a little more bearable.

However, this in itself brought me back to Ingold’s Lines and the difference between wayfaring and traveling. In experiencing this website, I found myself desiring to get from one planet to the next. It was a “game” I had to win by continuing to scroll until I could reach the end of our solar system. However, Worth even comments at that at one point, saying something along the lines of how incomprehensible “nothing” is to us. We imagine space as a connection of tint dots—jumps from planet to planet—when, in reality, the vast majority of universe (over 99%– I can’t recall the exact percentage) IS, in fact, nothing. There is far more a lack of matter than there is matter, which is almost incomprehensible to us in our own private worlds on our own little planet, filled with things. By the time I had passed his notes on this, I was nearing the outer edge of the solar system, and the scrolling took longer, even in between text snippets, and I definitely started to feel, to sense, the nothingness. Just imagining that the blackness on my computer screen stood for actual emptiness, nothingness, on an expanse literally beyond the capabilities of my imagination made me start to feel anxious. Your hand starts to get tired as you continue to scroll but STILL are only faced with nothingness. I tried to appreciate this feeling as the baby step beginnings of experiencing the incredible immensity that exists beyond us.

Although we may be incapable, as Worth points out in the scrolling text, of comprehending large numbers without the use of metaphor, this web page, as a metaphor itself, brings a type of reality to it. While we can’t really imagine the never-ending space, the great expanses of nothing between our planets, within our atoms even, just having to scroll for as long as I did—just having a scale to anchor to—allowed me to appreciate it (in, albeit, kind of a fearful way). It really made me appreciate the recognition of spaces that we overlook on the journey between places, between events and ideas in all sorts of settings (even educational ones).