Time to give props to a program that makes a regular habit of mind expansion, free of charge, and that's Nova on PBS. In the razzle dazzle schitzel fritz of all these hot, hip, happening, sexy shows on the idiot box these days, it's occasionally easy to consign a steady old pro like Nova to a backburner that it never deserves. There have been a couple of times in the last month that I've been reminded that we forget Nova (and, for that matter, Nature) at our peril.
The new Nova that played last week called “Invisible Universe Revealed” is the one that dropped my jaw. It's a retrospective of the astonishing legacy created by the Hubble Telescope in the first 25 years of its existence, and if you feel like getting your brain thoroughly and properly boggled, I recommend it highly. If I was Bob reviewing this one as a movie, Mr. Popcorn Box's kernels would be exploding all over the place like some butter-soaked meteor shower.
One of the many outrageous factoids that struck me from this one is a startling mega-number I'd never heard before, a number of such hugeness, such enormity, such googlific gigonderousness, that it—well, it's really impressive. This is the number resulting from the assertion put forth, while discussing Hubble's ability to peer into deep space, that there are more stars in the known universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches on earth combined. Uh—say what?
Whenever confronted with problems of a googalicious nature, it's of course best to just sit down and Google it. So I did. I'll spare you the cocktail napkin arithmetic, but suffice it to say, this astonishing assertion appears to be—gulp—true. In one estimate, in fact, it was worked out that the low-end estimate of stars in the universe, 10 sextillion (10 followed by 21 zeroes), equalled the high-end estimate of sand grains on Earth. It also could very well be, when all is said and done in this contest of cosmic mental masturbation, that in reality, the number of SITU is actually two to five times greater than the number of SGOE.
Wow. Wow. Wow. Remember, says the Nova narrator, that 100 years ago, we still thought that the universe consisted of one galaxy—our own. And here I am, experiencing some difficulty in properly applying taco sauce to my chimichanga. Somehow, this non sequitor works.
So the next time you're on the beach at Tahoe or Newport or wherever, reflect on that number, a number made possible by the most incredible tool in the history of science, and feel your mind begin to stretch at its seams. When was the last time Survivor or The Voice did that for ya?
(Wanna see this episode of Nova? You can. Just go to the PBS website. Many episodes are in the archives there and available for instant play).