Borrowing an idea from friend of the blog Splotchy and a picture sent to me by free lance fact checker and very science-y pal Ken Rose, we have side by side pictures of a galaxy and a storm. Ken thought of me because of the spirals that make up both these shapes. Regular readers might recall I had fun doodling with spirals a while back, and the spirals come from an idea of Archimedes and they are connected mathematically to the Fibonacci numbers.
Okay, Matty Boy, that's a lot of connections for an unconnected Tuesday. What's up with that?
Thanks for asking, hypothetical question asker. The galaxy and the storm, which have undeniably similar shapes, are created by physical forces that are completely dissimilar. In physics, one of the biggest splits between things is the split between closed and open systems. The storm is absolutely an open system, which means it's bringing in energy from other nearby sources. The storm gets energy from the warm water it passes over, and its spinning pattern and general direction is influenced by the rotation of the earth. On the other hand, the galaxy looks to be a closed system. It's out in the middle of nowhere, so all the energy it has is all the energy it has, unless we are missing something big we can't see. (Dark matter?)
I also publish this to have a connection to tomorrow's math post. The connection is that finite doesn't mean small or manageable. A galaxy, as huge as it is, is still finite. The difference in scale between those two side by side pictures is 10 to the 15th power. 10 to the 15th is on the big end of numbers to which we give special names. It's a quadrillion, one thousand times bigger than a trillion, the kind of dollars our government is willing to spend on wars but not on health care. Of course, that's just one dimension, the ratio of the distance across the storm in comparison with the distance across the galaxy. Since the pictures have both height and width, the difference in the surface area is 10 to the 30th power, the square of 10 to the 15th. We don't have a name for 10 to the 30th other than... 10 to the 30th.
This completely ignores that both these things have a thickness. If they have the same ratio when dealing in that dimension, the galaxy is 10 to the 45th power bigger than the storm.
Like I said, really big numbers. But still finite. More on this tomorrow.