Issue: 49

The Most Important Photograph Ever Taken!        
by Bill Hudson
For a maritime artist, a prized experience is to stay in a fishing town long enough to really absorb the environment, to see it during changes of weather and tides as work boats leave and return to unload their catch. To leisurely walk the docks and talk with boat crewmen, to visit lighthouses and museums, to learn the local history, and to view the work of artists in their galleries, all without any time constraints, is a rare opportunity.
Ellie and I recently returned from a one month road trip along the Pacific coast to our destination of Newport, Oregon where we had prearranged a home exchange (through with another couple whose family is very similar to ours. We stayed for two weeks in their home overlooking Newport's historic commercial fishing harbor. Some of our family flew up to join us for a vacation that included a lot of crabbing and sight-seeing.

Little Joe ..... by Bill Hudson

Watercolor & Casein , 20" x 14"


Simpler Times ..... by Bill Hudson

Watercolor & Casein, 14" x 20"


During our stay in Newport, I took my camera early every morning down the hill to the harbor. I still get excited being near the diminishing breed of old, still operating, wooden work boats. And I feel history being lost when I visit a boatyard to see retired, often abandoned boats that can only be restored by the legal owner due to the presence of lead paints.
I took nearly 4,000 reference pictures of harbors, boats, redwoods, lighthouses, farms, general stores, and beaches on this trip. Oregon beaches can change quickly as one moves along the coast from those that are vast flat expanses of sand covered with driftwood to those of step rocky cliffs that violently meet the ocean with little evidence of sand. But every time I walk any beach I think about the statement attributed to the astronomer Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996) that goes:
"There are more stars in the sky than grains of sand on all the beaches!"
When I take a step into millions of grains of sand I think ... Carl Sagan was nuts. That was just a wild exaggeration to stimulate interest in the size and power of the universe and to generate money for his book and TV series, Cosmos. But on this trip, with plenty of time, I was so impressed with the exceptionally large and often vacant beaches of Oregon that I decided to validate my suspicions and make a few calculations for myself.
So I began with estimating the number of grains of sand in a cubic foot. The World Atlas of Sands states: "In the USA sand is usually classified by grain size into five main categories: very fine (1/16 - 1/8 mm), fine (1/8 - 1/4 mm), medium (1/4 - 1/2 mm), coarse (1/2 - 1 mm), and very coarse (1 - 2 mm)." Assuming the average of the "medium size," or 3/8 mm, and converting to inches, there are 800 grains of sand per linear foot. Using that number as representative of the length, width, and height of a cubic foot of sand, I calculated the number of grains of sand in a cubic foot as being:

1 ft³ ≈ 5 x 108 grains of sand   ........... see calculation (1) below
Assuming the average beach is 100 yards wide and I yard deep in sand, then each mile of beach contains:
 2.4 x 1015 grains/mi   ......................... see calculation (2) below
Now, NASA states, "The earth has about 372,000 miles of coastline." Therefore, the total number of grains of sand on all of the coastline beaches is approximately:

 TOTAL grains of beach sand = 3.7 x 105 x 2.4 x 1015 = 8.9 x 1020 ≈ 1 x 1021 or
Note: After arriving at this estimate, I went to the internet to compare my numbers with others. I discovered that I was in the ballpark. For example (1) Researchers at the University of Hawaii estimated 7.5 x 1018 grains of sand on all of earth's beaches and deserts which includes the Sahara. (2) estimates the total grains of sand on the entire earth to be between 1020 and 1024.
So, how many stars are there? For this approximation I rely on the research of experts such as Professor David Kornreich, who is the founder of the "Ask An Astronomer" service at Cornell University. Kornreich estimated there are 10 trillion galaxies in the universe. And, our own Milky Way galaxy has between 100 to 400 billion stars. Using the lower number (100 billion) as representative of the star count for each galaxy, the total number of stars in the universe is then 10 trillion galaxies times 100 billion stars per galaxy or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or 1024 stars!  Kornreich emphasized that number is a gross underestimation, as more detailed observations of the universe (such as the Hubble Deep Field) reveal even more galaxies.
TOTAL STARS IN THE UNIVERSE ≥ 1024               (ref Kornreich)

(1) There are thousands more stars than grains of sand. For me, this is incomprehensible. Even if my estimate of beach sand is too low (i.e. Maybe the typical beach is 200 yards wide rather than 100, or maybe I should have assumed the sand is 10 feet deep instead of 3), there are still thousands more stars in the universe than grains of sand on the earth's beaches. And there are likely thousands to millions more stars to be revealed.
(2) Carl Sagan was not nuts. He was genius. If Carl Sagan was the first to make such a claim in his book Cosmos published in 1980, it was prophetic in that he did not benefit from the most recent data retrieved from the Hubble Deep Field (1996), Hubble Deep Field South (1998), Hubble Ultra-Deep Field (2004), and Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (2012) which proved the existence of thousands-to-millions of before-unknown galaxies!
The obvious question resulting from these conclusions is "Where are all these stars hiding?" When I look up on a dark clear night, I only see a few hundred stars. Conversely, with only a single shovel full, I can hold a million grains of sand. It is difficult to compare, understand, and appreciate the numbers. The reason lies in the magnitude of the universe and our inability to see even small parts of it with our most sophisticated instruments. A few examples may help.
  • Our sun is 865,000 miles in diameter. The closest star to our sun, Proxima Centauri, is 4.3 light-years from earth. And a light-year measures 5.9 x 1012 miles. To help fathom the magnitude of a light year and the size of our universe, imagine our sun being reduced to a medium grain of sand, the same as the one used in the model for my beach calculations. Our next closest sun, represented by another grain of sand, would be seven miles away! If each of these grains of beach sand were separated by 7 miles we may begin to understand the enormity of the universe and the reason we cannot grasp the number of stars.
  • Our own galaxy, the Milky Way is 100,000 light-years in diameter.
  • Andromeda, our closest neighboring galaxy, is 2.5 million light-years away. By the way, 45 years ago my wife Ellie and I visited my engineering friend Greg Sova, PhD who happened to have a telescope for sale. That particular evening he had it focused on Andromeda and after dinner I looked through it purely as a courtesy to Greg. I still vividly remember the experience ... the image of a neighboring galaxy millions of light-years away. I felt insignificantly small and said "This is humbling." My wife Ellie recognized the potential of my statement and immediately responded, "If that humbles you Bill, buy it." I did. 
  • The universe is estimated to be 91 billion light-years in diameter.
If we can begin to recognize the immensity of space, we may be able to further adapt our conceptual thinking to the building blocks of matter. For example, in addition to stars outnumbering grains of sand, there are also more H2O molecules in a single drop of water than grains of sand on all the beaches of the earth. Ref calculation (3) below.
To see images that were captured by the Hubble telescope after 10 days of gathering light from a single speck in the sky where nothing was believed to exist, then click onto this site. It presents the development of "the most important image ever taken." This will change your view of life.

Calculation (1)
   3/8 mm/grain x .039 in/mm = .015 in/grain       or      
   1 ft x 12in/foot x 1/.015in/grain = 800 grains/foot
   1 ft³ = 800 x 800 x 800 = 512,000,000       or    
   1 ft³ ≈ 5 x 108 grains of sand  
Calculation (2)
    100 yds wide x 3 ft/yd x 1yd deep x 3 ft/yd x 5,280 ft/mi x 5 x 108 grains/ft³
    = 2.4 x 1015 grains/mi
Calculation (3)
     1 drop of water ≈ 0.05 grams
     Avogadro's Number = NA = 6.022 x 1023 molecules/mole
     1 mole of water = 18 grams
   0.05 grams/drop x 1 mole/18 grams x 6.022 x 1023 molecules/mole = 0.0167 x 1023
   ≈   2 x 1021 molecules/drop 

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