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The Most Important Image ever Taken

January 23, 2011

That's what they call it.

On December 18th 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope pointed at a tiny dark spot in the night sky. Over the course of 10 consecutive days, the telescope gathered light from a region so small that it is comparable to the amount of the sky seen through the eye of a needle held at arms length. Named the "Hubble Deep Field", this was the first of what became known as the Hubble Deep Field images.

A second similar image was taken from the Telescope in late 2003. With improved technology and imaging techniques, this picture (known as the Hubble Ultra Deep Field) became the deepest image of the universe ever taken. This is what they saw.

hubble ultra deep fieldLink to the full resolution photo (18 Mb)

In the image you can see a few stars from our own galaxy. Can you pick them out? These stars are just like seeing bugs smashed on the windshield as we look out into the expanse of space. Every other spot and speck of light is a galaxy. There are an estimated 10,000 galaxies shown in the image. Each galaxy contains millions of stars.

All this was found in a dark spot in the sky behind the eye of a needle. That's equal to roughly one thirteen-millionth of the total area of the sky.

Can you see why this has been called the most important image ever taken?

This is how small we really are. Think of how trivial our daily tasks really are. Losing your mail key. Being stuck in traffic. That bad call made by the referee. Getting put on hold. These things can make us so angry, but they are insignificant when compared to the magnitude of the universe. Imagine if LeBron James knew how unimportant he really was in the grand scheme of things.

It is humbling to know that all of that is out there. And still, we believe that there is some purpose for us being here.

If nothing else, we should take this as an opportunity to realize that the grudges we hold, the prejudices we keep, and the pains we feel are really less important than we consider them to be.

See an incredible video explaining the story of the Hubble Deep Field images
Wikipedia: Hubble Deep Field
Wikipedia: Hubble Ultra Deep Field


The problem with the "Trivial Argument" (for lack of a better term) is that if you want to use that argument (that such photographs trivialize the human experience), then not only is the NBA "trivial" but so is the Holocaust, the discovery of fire, the use of vaccines, the harnessing of gravity, etc. The greatest evils AND triumphs of the human race are ALL trivial....the sword cuts too deeply. The argument also assumes a starting point outside the human perspective, and that is impossible. Thus, we need to look at what's trivial in comparison to humanity, not compared to the immensity of inter-stellar space.

Looked at from another perspective, how important are we that this whole universe was designed for us? To this great extent? Unless you say it wasn't?

What makes us significant both on earth and in the universe is that we can see the wonders of the universe and appreciate it. No other being on earth can do that. And, if there is intelligent life out there, still the vast majority of what we can see is inert matter. The inert matter of the universe cant appreciate itself, but we can. That gives us value even amid the vastness. We are small, but we are conscious, creative, can be transfixed by beauty and strive to know what is true and work for what is good.