It is just not fathomable that we live in a Universe that has these improbably distances between billions of galaxies some of whom are larger than our own galaxy. It is incomprehensible.
Is the current thinking totally and completely wrong?
While on the subject, seeing as the universe is made of so much matter and energy and the Earths is practically the size of an atom in comparison to the whole universe, would it matter so much if we chuck all our radioactive and other waste into space.
Who will notice? There is far more lethal stuff there and the combined weight of all our hazardous material will be like adding a proton to the whole celestial mix.
Dumping hazardous material into outer space isn’t avoided because we’re worried about polluting space. It’s avoided because sending things to space is extremely expensive. If we want it never to return it is even more expensive. It also has a significant risk of failure, which often consists of everything falling down in very small pieces somewhere random, which is considered bad when the pieces are hazardous.
A great many things in life are incomprehensible to our highly limited experience. We are puny creatures that barely have the wit or capability to get a few hundred miles off the surface of the planet, and spent the vast majority of their history hardly wandering more than a few tens of miles from where they were born. The difficulty in comprehension says a great deal about us, and not nearly so much about the universe.
As noted, when you do the measurements, and the mathematics, you get a very consistent answer. Just one that is a lot bigger than the distances we experience in our dull pathetic lives.
If you want to consider the inconceivable, you might also wonder that we are made of essentially nothing. The matter that make us is almost entirely empty space. So empty that the emptiness of space almost looks crowded.
Of course it’s fathomable. I’m fathoming it right now. If you find that you cannot, then that says more about you than it does about the Universe.
We would notice. Not only would it be prohibitively expensive to launch all that stuff into space, and not only would the process of launching create more pollution than it would remove, but we also don’t want to get rid of that stuff. High-level radioactive waste is valuable.
Leaving aside the question of whether or not it IS fathomable, why SHOULD it be fathomable at all? Our puny ape brains evolved on earth in response to survival issues on earth. Why should it have evolved to “fathom” the entire universe?
Once again, it’s time to break out one of my favorite quotes: “Science is the fight against common sense”. Common sense, or our innate feelings about how the universe should be, turns out to be a completely shit method of figuring out how it actually IS. Common sense doesn’t tell us that we’re on the surface of a ball spinning wildly through empty space. Common sense doesn’t tell us that many diseases are caused by invisible living things that float through the air and hijack our bodies to reproduce. Common sense doesn’t tell us that we can stretch a piece of copper around the world and wiggle some of its invisible charged particles in order to send pictures of cats from one person to another.
Common sense is bullshit.
Realizing that was one of the great intellectual advancements of humanity. Now, we check everything we think against reality to figure out what’s right and what’s not. It works much, much, much better. Sometimes, the answers we get are disappointing, such as the fact that space is so “unfathomably” vast that we’ll probably never get Star Trek-like adventures, at least for the foreseeable future. But that doesn’t mean the answers are wrong.
Physicists are having a few problems connecting QM and GR, which introduces at least a 5% inconsistency in our current theories … thus some amazing Crackpotism can be developed:
The speed of light is slowing down over time. It’s not that these distant galaxies are moving away from us, rather the light they emit is moving faster only giving the appearance of an expanding universe. In TRUTH, the universe is completely static.
dE/dt = 2mc dc/dt
Apparently, Nature magazine doesn’t publishing articles written in lumber crayon.
I don’t know about that. Common sense is, after all, based on observation of the world, and sometimes science is about saying that common sense is right after all, despite what people who “know better” insist. For instance, show a child a mirror, and the child will find it to be common sense that the images in the mirror are behind the glass, because just look at it, and that’s what you see. An adult who has grown past that stage will often insist that that’s impossible, and that the images must reside right at the surface of the glass, like on a TV screen. But if you actually scientifically measure it, you find that the child is right: The images are behind the glass, just like they look like they are.
Or another example: Common sense says that the reading on an accelerometer is how much it’s accelerating. Those who go beyond common sense say that you have to subtract off one g downwards to get the true reading. But Einstein found that it actually works a lot better to just go by common sense, and say that the accelerometer is working correctly.
The real catch is that common sense isn’t always consistent, and so you have to be able to first find those inconsistencies, and then figure out which of the two, if either, is actually correct.
It costs something like $10000 to send a pound of matter into space. It is not cost effective to send garbage into space because of that.
The universe is not required to make sense to our brains. It is like the saying the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose. Our brains evolved to help us survive in Africa, they weren’t designed for science. Nick bostrom once compared humans doing science to dogs walking on their hind legs. Dogs are physiologically capable of walking on their hind legs but most can’t and even the ones who can tend to suck at it. However dogs possess the minimum physiological requirements to walk upright, and humans are probably the same with science.
Is there an alternative theory for this Universe thing
“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.
There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”
― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Like all pithy sayings, it’s glib, and therefore will not apply to each and every case. The point is that science, at its heart, is about not just trusting our guts. Common sense is fine when it happens to be correct, but the only way to know whether it is or not is to test it. We have to question our assumptions, check our beliefs, and trust only the hard data. When the data contradicts our most dearly held beliefs, it must be the data that wins out (assuming all required checks have been done, of course).
In fact, we have difficulty “fathoming” the scale and quantity of many things on our planet that are even on a visible scale, much less those that are very large (like glaciers or mountains) or very small (like microbes or molecules). The majesty many people feel from looking at vast natural landscapes, or the fear and inconsequential feelings from being lost in mid-ocean or desert are a result of conditions on a scale that we are just not evolved to comprehend. The small portion of our brains that is adapted to identifying and quantifying things is evolutionarily recent and primarily dedicated to discrete counting on the scale of a large family or small clan, which makes large quantities and continuous distributions difficult to liberally conceive without resorting to qualitative grouping. It’s not surprising that we can’t really “fathom” the scale of the universe; in fact, it is quite surprising that we’ve developed a relatively effective means to describe it at all even in the crude scale of orders of orders of magnitude in base 10.
In fact, we currently use less than 5% of the total extractable energy from fissionable or fissile fuels with the typical once-through cycle. Although extracting the remaining energy is technically challenging, requiring new types of fission/fissionable reactors to be designed and proven out, it doesn’t require any revisions of nuclear physics, exotic containment systems, or hard-to-achieve environments, and may well be a precious resource for post-petrochemical and -carbonaceous energy production.
Sending waste into space, on the other hand, poses significant hazard; not of polluting space (which is already full of radiation and many other hazardous conditions and materials) but uncontained distribution on the surface and atmosphere on our planet in the case of an all-too-common launch failure. A single failure depositing radioactive waste in broad ocean area isn’t a major environmental catastrophe–we’ve certainly done much worse in above ground nuclear testing over the course of decades during the Cold War–but in the scale of launches to orbit even with the vehicles with the highest historically predicted reliability (in the 97% to 98% range) would inevitably result in far more failures occurring. Nuclear fission power plants produce somewhere around 2000 metric tons of “expended” fuel a year, and there is about 75 thousand metric tons of used fuel and high level waste products currently in storage. By comparison, the Atlas V and Delta IV-H rockets can carry about 9 and 14 metric tons to geotransfer orbit respectively at costs averaging couple hundred million dollars each. Assuming an even mix of vehicles you’d be looking at approaching a trillion dollars to transport the existing material into interplanetary space and a few tens of billions a year for ongoing waste production for the launch costs alone notwithstanding all of the other costs for packaging and transporting wastes. Even positing reduced launch costs from commercial launch providers on the order of the US$5000/kg to GTO that SpaceX presumes for their Falcon Heavy vehicle you’re still looking at several hundreds of billions of dollars in flight costs alone notwithstanding packaging and transportation, launch assurance, or remediation costs in the case of a significant failure, making this notion even more of a useless boondoggle than the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository.
I understand that it is different from a TV screen because parallax works and viewers at different spots see different images. But I don’t really know what you mean by the image is behind the glass. The image is a virtual one not a real one, and you can’t really say it exists anywhere. Certainly the photons striking my eye emanate from the silvery coating just beneath the glass. Or if you want to say the photon I see is the same as the “original” one, then it emanates from in our side the glass.