The UBC Astronomy Club invites you to join us on a trip around the Universe!
To make your first trip around the universe less overwhelming, let’s start with the top five must sees. Before you begin your journey, make sure you have packed enough food for a lifetime and have a spaceship that can break the cosmic speed limit — the speed of light. Of course, if you plan to hitchhike, Douglas Adams would say “A towel ... is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.”
Your first stop should be Europa, 43 light minutes away. This moon of Jupiter is one of the most likely places to find extraterrestrial life — albeit single cellular — in our solar system, due to the presence of liquid water.
Water vapour plumes have been detected on the surface, rising to more than twenty times the height of Mount Everest. These oceans are completely under the icy surface of the moon. So make sure to pack a shovel, microscope and of course, a towel.
Next, you should journey to the centre of the Milky Way. There you will find Sagittarius A*, a supermassive black hole. Sagittarius A* is 26,000 light years away and estimated to be about four million times the mass of our own sun. The gravitational force around black holes is so strong that not even light can escape, hence the name black hole, so don’t bother taking your camera for this stop.
For your next excursion, take the exit on the cosmic freeway, 147 million light years from your starting point, for the famed roadside attraction “The Mystery Spot.” You are now in the zone of avoidance, a region of space we are unable to see from Earth since the light in the Milky Way’s spiral arms blocks out all light behind it. There is something at this exit called the Great Attractor, with a mass of 10,000 galaxies.
We don’t know what it is exactly since we can’t observe it directly, but it’s at the centre of our supercluster and affects everything in our region of space. Record as much data as you can so we can solve this age-old mystery.
Make sure to refuel before your next point of interest since it’s a whopping 10 billion light years from Earth. Sitting at 10 billion light years long, seven billion light years wide, and one billion light years thick, the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall is the largest thing in the entire universe.
This supercluster of galaxies disobeys the cosmological principle set forth by Einstein and shouldn’t have even been able to form in the amount of time the universe has been around. Unlike the humble 1,000 days it would take to walk the Great Wall of China, this Great Wall will take more than the age of the universe to traverse, so make sure to pack a lunch.
Your last stop will be the oldest observable thing in the universe. When the universe expanded and cooled down enough for free electrons and ions to form neutral atoms, a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang, photons were finally able to travel outward towards infinity. This first light is known as the Cosmic Microwave Background. Our best estimates predict the temperature of the CMB to be -270 degrees Celsius, so bring a jacket and of course, your towel.
We hope you enjoyed this journey, and wish you luck finding your way back home. You can curate your own tour of the universe with the Astronomy Club by attending our observations or lecture series!
Katie Rink is a fourth-year student studying astronomy with a minor in physics and is co-president of the UBC Astronomy Club.