Ubiquitous patterns, like the spiral, reveal a unity between human-scale events on earth and cosmic-scale events out in the space. The laws of physics are the same for a microscopic algae, for a spider’s web, and for a galaxy. On all of these scales, spirals form spontaneously for the same fundamental reasons: everything is spinning, and everything is subject to the laws of gravity. This compulsion towards order is a generative force: from primordial clumps of dust and gas spun together the first stars and planets. Likewise, these individual orbs are the free-floating particles that make up the rotating arms of vast spiral galaxies.
Our home in the Milky Way - Flash Animation
The Perfect Spiral Galaxy
(that's it's real name!)
Spirals in Nature: The Magical Number behind Hurricanes and Galaxies
By Robert Roy Britt
As hurricane Isabel churned toward his office in Baltimore yesterday, astrophysicist Mario Livio pondered the curious similarity between the storm's shape and that of our Milky Way Galaxy. In fact, Livio knows, the shape is shared by things as diverse as a seashell, water going down a drain and the path of a falcon on the hunt.
In terms of origin, development and general physics, there is typically little or nothing that binds these various spirals. Behind them all, however, is a magical number.
In his book, "The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number" (Broadway Books, 2002) Livio describes among other things the remarkable connection between avian flight patterns, stormy weather and cosmic pinwheels. (...)
Livio said the logarithmic spiral is a key shape for anything that grows, because with growth the ratio does not change. But logarithmic spirals appear in totally unrelated phenomena.
A galaxy is a rotating disk of stars. Galaxies come in many shapes, but the most common shape is a spiral. A galaxy is like a slowly turning pinwheel made up of billions of stars. At the center of most galaxies, we now think, lies a giant black hole, a gravitational plug hole into which matter is continually sucked. Is the galaxy the cosmic equivalent of water going down the drain?
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How Many Galaxies are there in the Universe?
The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) site estimates there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. A recent German super-computer simulation estimates that the number may be as high as 500 billion!
Vincent van Gogh, 1889
Planet formation: This image is a computer-generated simulation of gasses swirling around a young star as it turns into a planet.
Image created by John Rosheck