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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Where is the Most Beautiful View in the Universe?

Where is the Most Beautiful View in the Universe?

It is easy to come up with a list of the most breathtaking views on planet Earth, adding items such as the view from the Empire State Building, the view from the Eiffel Tower, the view from the rim of the Grand Canyon, the view from behind Machu Picchu, and the view from Yosemite Valley. But let's think bigger, and ask: where is the most beautiful view in the universe? We cannot specify one particular place, but we can at least consider different types of cosmic vistas, and ponder which type is the most beautiful.

Here is a list of types of vistas that are as likely as any to contain the most beautiful view in the universe.

Candidate 1: The View From Above a Life-Bearing Planet

One plausible candidate for the most beautiful view in the universe is simply the view from a space station above any life-bearing planet. Someone in a space station above a planet like Earth can enjoy a most glorious spectacle of color and motion. At such a spot the rotation of the planet and the swirling motion of the clouds means you almost never see the same sight below you. Before long we will have space tourists who will spend a million dollars or more mainly just to enjoy such a view for a short time. 

Candidate 2: The View From a Ringed Planet's Moon

The moon in the sky of our planet makes a great contribution to the beauty of our sky, but imagine what it would look like if the moon were ten or twenty times bigger in the sky. Then imagine that the moon had rings around it. That is pretty much what the view would look like if you were on the moon of a ringed gas-giant planet such as Saturn.

Below is how such a view might look like. Since we know that Saturn's moon Titan has a thick atmosphere, the depiction is that of a moon with an atmosphere.

Candidate 3: The View From a Planet Orbiting a Binary Star

For me the most unforgettable moment in the first Star Wars movie was the moment when Luke Skywalker on the planet Tatooine views a sunset involving not just one sun but two suns. Scientists have actually discovered two real world planets like Tatooine: Kepler 34b and Kepler 35b. Each revolves around two different stars.

Below is a look at how a sunset might look on such a planet. 

Candidate 4: The View From a Planet Near an Open Cluster Within our Galaxy

Within our galaxy of more than 100 billion stars there are numerous star clusters called open clusters, areas where stars exist in much greater numbers than they do near our sun. Around the sun there is about one star every five light years, but within an open cluster there might be a few hundred stars within an area only 30 light years across. The view from a planet near such an open cluster would be breathtaking. You might look up in the sky and see several stars as bright as the moon is in our sky. Since these types of clusters are right here in our galaxy, we have reason to suspect that many intelligent beings may have enjoyed such spectacular views from their planets.

Here is how such a view might look, from a planet near the Pleiades open cluster.

Candidate 5: The View From a Mountain Much Taller Than Everest

We know that Mount Everest is not the tallest mountain in the solar system. The Olympus Mons mountain on Mars is about three times taller. So we may presume that in the universe there are many mountains much taller than Everest. You must be able to get some of the most beautiful views in the universe from the tops of such mountains. Below is a depiction of such a view.

Candidate 6: The View From a Building as Tall as Pike's Peak

On our planet the tallest skyscraper is the Burj Khalifa with a height of 829 meters. But within our vast universe, there are probably some races more advanced than ours which have built skyscrapers as high as 5000 meters. The view from such buildings must be astonishingly, overlooking vast futuristic cities. Below is an attempt to imagine the view from such a building on an alien planet, one with a large moon.

Candidate 7: The View From a Planet Near a Planetary Nebula

When a star several times more massive than the sun explodes in a supernova, the star's gas shoots out into space, creating a very beautiful sight called a planetary nebula. Our galaxy is full of gloriously photogenic planetary nebulae, having a great variety of colors and shapes. A planet near a planetary nebula would offer one of the most beautiful views in the universe. But it probably would not be worth the view, because if you lived there you would be likely to get zapped by cosmic radiation from the supernova. Below is an attempt to visualize the view from a planet near a planetary nebula.

Candidate 8: The View From a Planet Near a Globular Cluster

Globular clusters are spherical collections of stars that orbit our galaxy. Globular clusters are believed to be poor in the metals needed for rocky planets, so perhaps we cannot plausibly imagine the view from a planet inside a globular cluster. But we can plausibly imagine a planet revolving around a star on the outskirts of our galaxy, and from such a planet one might be able to see a glorious close-up view of a globular cluster. It might look something like the image shown below.

Candidate 9: The View From a Planet Just Outside a Spiral Galaxy

Anyone can see our galaxy from the surface of our planet, a fact that is tragically unknown to many city dwellers. But those who live far away from cities know that all you need to see the Milky Way is to get far away from lights on a crystal clear night, and you will see our galaxy as a faint river of stars in the sky. But imagine the view from a planet on the far outskirts of our galaxy. From that planet you would be able to see the full glory of our galaxy, with its swirling spiral arms. Below is an attempt to visualize such a view.

Now reader, from this discussion I'm sure you are now well prepared to answer this question: where do you think is the most beautiful view in the universe?