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Cat. no. 2005-01

Looking Back Through Time

Date: Feb-05
Item Type: Painting
Support: Honeycomb Fiberglass
Dimensions: 24 X 30
Agent / Institution: Grapevine


Looking Back through Time. 24 x 30.

We have a few things we know about the universe. One is the fact that
electro-magnetic waves travel at the rate of 186,000 miles per second
in our solar system. You see, we have arbitrarily divided each day
into hours, minutes and seconds and then divided these seconds into
hundredths, thousandths, millionths, billionths, trillionths, etc. We
have also, arbitrarily, divided distance from units we cannot see
because they are so small out to light years. Any constant unit,
cubit, foot or meter will do. Time is arbitrary because it is based
on the period of rotation of our earth and the time it takes earth to
circle our sun. Without these units of measurement, we would have no
way of estimating the speed of light and finding it constant. It took
thousands of years for us to build a rational system to help us
describe what we experienced after we had quantified time and
distance. Next we settled definitions that we see in Euclidian
Geometry. Later people of great intellect, using mathematics and
measured observation, described the force of gravity and the effect of
inertia on all objects. You notice, they merely described these
forces. No one has ever yet had the wisdom of understanding why they
exist. So, as I show you what we can see you will know that much is
unknown and can only be guessed. We know from radar response the
distance of our moon from us. We have even measured the height of the
great mountains on Mars by radar. We have controlled space
exploration vehicles and received return messages that took not
seconds or minutes, but hours to travel between us and them. By these
measurements we can confidently describe the solar system distances.
By advances in measuring time, we can use the diameter of our orbit
about the sun, and by observing movement of near stars against their
far background, use geometry to measure their distances. So we know
how many light years our neighbors are from us. All galaxies, which
comprise gravitational systems spinning billions of stars around them,
are, like people, of various sizes and shapes. Yet there is a
similarity that permits us to generalize. When we augment our distant
vision with a telescope we see that the smaller galaxies appear, the
longer is the wavelength of their light. This "red shift" has created
numerous theories such as one that says that everything that is far
away is moving away from us, and we have an "expanding" universe.
That we cannot see beyond what is called the "Hubble Constant." That
the whole universe happened as a "Big Bang" fourteen billion three
hundred million years ago. The Hubble orbiting telescope has now let
us see galaxies so far away that only one photon reaches that large
unencumbered mirror every several days. So what do we see? In this
painting I have started far away. Our nearest large galaxy is
Andromeda. The best estimate we have is it lays two million two
hundred thousand light years from us. It is so close to us that it
looks silvery white with no perceptible red shift to be painted. What
I have painted is a typical galaxy out beyond a billion light years
where the lengthening of the wavelength of light gives it a distinct
gold color. There are so many of these in the sky I have merely
painted a common one. Beyond it lies another galaxy at a fraction of
the size of the foreground galaxy. By the laws of geometry, if both
galaxies are approximately the same size, this second galaxy is from
five to seven billion light years away. Its color drifts to orange.
Redder yet, the next galaxy is nine to twelve billion light years
away. The next smaller red images, still similar in conformation to
Andromeda or our Milky Way, have to be beyond the Hubble Constant and
seem as mature as our immediate surroundings although the light left
them billions of years before the hypothetical Big Bang. All of it is
still a beautiful and immense mystery. (March 14, 2005)

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