William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Pajamas Media: ‘A Blink of an Eye, Astronomically’: What Does It Actually Mean?

Today’s post—as uncontroversial as ever a post can be—is over at Pajamas Media.

Pajamas Media

The tag-line, sweetly provided by the editors, is, “Have humans only been around for ‘a blink of an eye’? How long did it take to form galaxies, blinkwise?”

Surf on over and help me think of more examples.

9 Comments

  1. ” … thought we should figure that figure of speech out.”

    Why finagle with figuring? Maybe if you just held the door open it would run out by itself?

  2. View from the Solent

    February 13, 2010 at 11:41 am

    I had to smile when I saw your use of ‘large numbers’, ‘astronomical’ and ‘the budget’. A homage? (I refuse to use the pretentious ‘an’)

  3. “There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it’s only a hundred billion. It’s less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.”
    ~Richard Feynman

    Current statistics suggest that we should scrap “astronomical”, and “economical” and say “Obamian”.

  4. It’s unfortunate that a general audience needs to be told that ” … there’s 1,000 milliseconds in each second … “

  5. How can you say that?!?! I’m outraged!!!! All you Republicrats should #$%#@^ yourselves!!!! Typical, just typical. You’ll get yours.

  6. Wouldn’t it be a trifle difficult to “get ours” if the party in power has already taken “it” away? Just askin’?

  7. Satire, sir, is the lowest form of humor, which is why I enjoy it so much. Matt baited me with his “uncontroversial” statement, so I responded with a senseless expression of mock outrage. Poor attempt at poor humor. I apologize.

    Please note that there is no “Republicrat” party, it is specious nonsense, and so the label cannot be applied to any real faction. As to “getting yours,” I believe it was Mick Jagger who wrote, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you might find, you get what you need.”

    That’s it in a nutshell, which is to volume what a blink of an eye is to time.

  8. Ah. I can see where you, (and Professor whatsisname), are going wrong. Far from being a blink of an eye, 300 million years is forever.

    After all, when the galaxies formed they formed at, (what was then), the end of time. Similarly, when the first atomic particles formed – a few tiny fractions of a second after the big bang – that was at the end of time.

    Just think of it like this. When the Big Bang happened, all the Space, Time and Energy in the Universe appeared*, it’s just that space was very small and time was very short. Now I know this is counter intuitive as it’s very tempting to think that the Universe is getting bigger as it gets older, but if you think about it, since the Universe is all the space, time and energy there is, there is nothing for it to grow into, and no reference for it to age against.

    (*I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to explain where it appeared from.)

  9. If 300M years is a blink compared to 14000M years, then the correct reference point for a true blink of an eye is surely about 15 seconds?

    In any case, I think it’s hard to argue that 300M years is a blink of an eye.

    Ironically, it feels like a wink is about two blinks. Odd.

    I have to agree with Kevin B, too – it feels wrong to extrapolate time comparatively at the birth of the universe. But I guess the astrophysicists probably know what they’re doing.

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