The Universe Is Steadily Geing Larger 119
When we look at the Milky Way, we see that the stars of the universe seem to have
created a cluster that has some kind of structure. Herschel made a superhuman effort in
counting stars in an attempt to identify this structure of our galaxy.
In most cases, the contents of clusters in the natural world are homogeneously scat-
tered. Therefore, Herschel assumed the stars also would exist uniformly with almost the
same density in the cluster.
Assuming in addition that all stars had the same brightness and were evenly scattered
about the galaxy, Herschel postulated that the more stars he counted in a given block of
space, the farther away those stars had to be.
Think of it this way: Van Gogh used many small dots to paint his famous self-portrait. If
you stood really close to that painting and looked at only 1 square inch of it, you would only
be able to see a few points. But if you backed up a few feet, then looked at 1 square inch of
the painting, you would see more points. In fact, it would be hard to distinguish the separate
points from that distance. So for Herschel, the more stars that were in his “1 square inch,”
the farther away he was from those stars.
After this enormous effort, Herschel created the model of the universe shown in the
figure below.
Actually, since parts of the sky that were hidden by dust could not be verified with the
naked eye, the shape Herschel came up with was somewhat odd. He ended up estimating
that the size of the galaxy was quite small—less than 1/10 the size of the actual galaxy—but
he did conclude that the galaxy was disc shaped. His results certainly contributed signifi-
cantly to the development of cosmology.
An Idea from Kant Enlarged the Perceived Universe in
aFlash
The shape of the galaxy came to be vaguely understood as a result of Herschel’s efforts.
However, since he believed, without foundation, that the solar system was at the center
of the galaxy and thought that the stars that could be observed from Earth (which we now
know are our galaxy) made up the entire universe, he was unable to consider a more exten-
sive universe. But then, since this was the established paradigm for astronomers at the time,
Herschel alone should not take all the blame.
However, at the same time, someone did come close to the truth of the universe from
a completely different viewpoint. This was the German-born, world-renowned philosopher
Immanuel Kant (1728–1804).
Sun
Model of the universe created by Herschel

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