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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Parallax

Parallax

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A simplified illustration of the parallax of an object against a distant background due to a perspective shift. When viewed from "Viewpoint A", the object appears to be in front of the blue square. When the viewpoint is changed to "Viewpoint B", the object appears to have moved in front of the red square.
This animation is an example of parallax. As the viewpoint moves side to side, the objects in the distance appear to move slower than the objects close to the camera.

Parallax is a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight, and is measured by the angle or semi-angle of inclination between those two lines.[1][2] The term is derived from the Greek παράλλαξις (parallaxis), meaning "alteration". Nearby objects have a larger parallax than more distant objects when observed from different positions, so parallax can be used to determine distances.

Astronomers use the principle of parallax to measure distances to the closer stars. Here, the term "parallax" is the semi-angle of inclination between two sight-lines to the star, as observed when the Earth is on opposite sides of the sun in its orbit.[3] These distances form the lowest rung of what is called "the cosmic distance ladder", the first in a succession of methods by which astronomers determine the distances to celestial objects, serving as a basis for other distance measurements in astronomy forming the higher rungs of the ladder.

Parallax also affects optical instruments such as rifle scopes, binoculars, microscopes, and twin-lens reflex cameras that view objects from slightly different angles. Many animals, including humans, have two eyes with overlapping visual fields that use parallax to gain depth perception; this process is known as stereopsis. In computer vision the effect is used for computer stereo vision, and there is a device called a parallax rangefinder that uses it to find range, and in some variations also altitude to a target.

A simple everyday example of parallax can be seen in the dashboard of motor vehicles that use a needle-style speedometer gauge. When viewed from directly in front, the speed may show exactly 60; but when viewed from the passenger seat the needle may appear to show a slightly different speed, due to the angle of viewing.

Visual perception

This image demonstrates parallax. The Sun is visible above the streetlight. The reflection in the water is a virtual image of the Sun and the streetlight. The location of the virtual image is below the surface of the water, offering a different vantage point of the streetlight, which appears to be shifted relative to the more distant Sun.

As the eyes of humans and other animals are in different positions on the head, they present different views simultaneously. This is the basis of stereopsis, the process by which the brain exploits the parallax due to the different views from the eye to gain depth perception and estimate distances to objects.[4] Animals also use motion parallax, in which the animals (or just the head) move to gain different viewpoints. For example, pigeons (whose eyes do not have overlapping fields of view and thus cannot use stereopsis) bob their heads up and down to see depth.[5]

The motion parallax is exploited also in wiggle stereoscopy, computer graphics which provide depth cues through viewpoint-shifting animation rather than through binocular vision.

Parallax in astronomy

Parallax is an angle subtended by a line on a point. In the upper diagram the earth in its orbit sweeps the parallax angle subtended on the sun. The lower diagram shows an equal angle swept by the sun in a geostatic model. A similar diagram can be drawn for a star except that the angle of parallax would be minuscule.

Parallax arises due to change in viewpoint occurring due to motion of the observer, of the observed, or of both. What is essential is relative motion. By observing parallax, measuring angles, and using geometry, one can determine distance.

Stellar parallax

Stellar parallax created by the relative motion between the Earth and a star can be seen, in the Copernican model, as arising from the orbit of the Earth around the Sun: the star only appears to move relative to more distant objects in the sky. In a geostatic model, the movement of the star would have to be taken as real with the star oscillating across the sky with respect to the background stars. Stellar parallax is most often measured using annual parallax, defined as the difference in position of a star as seen from the Earth and Sun, i. e. the angle subtended at a star by the mean radius of the Earth's orbit around the Sun. The parsec (3.26 light-years) is defined as the distance for which the annual parallax is 1 arcsecond. Annual parallax is normally measured by observing the position of a star at different times of the year as the Earth moves through its orbit. Measurement of annual parallax was the first reliable way to determine the distances to the closest stars. The first successful measurements of stellar parallax were made by Friedrich Bessel in 1838 for the star 61 Cygni using a heliometer.[6] Stellar parallax remains the standard for calibrating other measurement methods. Accurate calculations of distance based on stellar parallax require a measurement of the distance from the Earth to the Sun, now based on radar reflection off the surfaces of planets.[7]

The angles involved in these calculations are very small and thus difficult to measure. The nearest star to the Sun (and thus the star with the largest parallax), Proxima Centauri, has a parallax of 0.7687 ± 0.0003 arcsec.[8] This angle is approximately that subtended by an object 2 centimeters in diameter located 5.3 kilometers away.
Hubble Space Telescope - Spatial scanning precisely measures distances up to 10,000 light-years away (10 April 2014).[9]

The fact that stellar parallax was so small that it was unobservable at the time was used as the main scientific argument against heliocentrism during the early modern age. It is clear from Euclid's geometry that the effect would be undetectable if the stars were far enough away, but for various reasons such gigantic distances involved seemed entirely implausible: it was one of Tycho's principal objections to Copernican heliocentrism that in order for it to be compatible with the lack of observable stellar parallax, there would have to be an enormous and unlikely void between the orbit of Saturn and the eighth sphere (the fixed stars).[10]

In 1989, the satellite Hipparcos was launched primarily for obtaining improved parallaxes and proper motions for over 100,000 nearby stars, increasing the reach of the method tenfold. Even so, Hipparcos is only able to measure parallax angles for stars up to about 1,600 light-years away, a little more than one percent of the diameter of the Milky Way Galaxy. The European Space Agency's Gaia mission, launched in December 2013, will be able to measure parallax angles to an accuracy of 10 microarcseconds, thus mapping nearby stars (and potentially planets) up to a distance of tens of thousands of light-years from Earth.[11][12] In April 2014, NASA astronomers reported that the Hubble Space Telescope, by using spatial scanning, can now precisely measure distances up to 10,000 light-years away, a ten-fold improvement over earlier measurements.[9] (related image)

Distance measurement


Distance measurement by parallax is a special case of the principle of triangulation, which states that one can solve for all the sides and angles in a network of triangles if, in addition to all the angles in the network, the length of at least one side has been measured. Thus, the careful measurement of the length of one baseline can fix the scale of an entire triangulation network. In parallax, the triangle is extremely long and narrow, and by measuring both its shortest side (the motion of the observer) and the small top angle (always less than 1 arcsecond,[6] leaving the other two close to 90 degrees), the length of the long sides (in practice considered to be equal) can be determined.

Assuming the angle is small (see derivation below), the distance to an object (measured in parsecs) is the reciprocal of the parallax (measured in arcseconds): d (\mathrm{pc}) = 1 / p (\mathrm{arcsec}). For example, the distance to Proxima Centauri is 1/0.7687=1.3009 parsecs (4.243 ly).[8]

Diurnal parallax

Diurnal parallax is a parallax that varies with rotation of the Earth or with difference of location on the Earth. The Moon and to a smaller extent the terrestrial planets or asteroids seen from different viewing positions on the Earth (at one given moment) can appear differently placed against the background of fixed stars.[13][14]

Lunar parallax

Lunar parallax (often short for lunar horizontal parallax or lunar equatorial horizontal parallax), is a special case of (diurnal) parallax: the Moon, being the nearest celestial body, has by far the largest maximum parallax of any celestial body, it can exceed 1 degree.[15]

The diagram (above) for stellar parallax can illustrate lunar parallax as well, if the diagram is taken to be scaled right down and slightly modified. Instead of 'near star', read 'Moon', and instead of taking the circle at the bottom of the diagram to represent the size of the Earth's orbit around the Sun, take it to be the size of the Earth's globe, and of a circle around the Earth's surface. Then, the lunar (horizontal) parallax amounts to the difference in angular position, relative to the background of distant stars, of the Moon as seen from two different viewing positions on the Earth: one of the viewing positions is the place from which the Moon can be seen directly overhead at a given moment (that is, viewed along the vertical line in the diagram); and the other viewing position is a place from which the Moon can be seen on the horizon at the same moment (that is, viewed along one of the diagonal lines, from an Earth-surface position corresponding roughly to one of the blue dots on the modified diagram).

The lunar (horizontal) parallax can alternatively be defined as the angle subtended at the distance of the Moon by the radius of the Earth[16]—equal to angle p in the diagram when scaled-down and modified as mentioned above.

The lunar horizontal parallax at any time depends on the linear distance of the Moon from the Earth. The Earth-Moon linear distance varies continuously as the Moon follows its perturbed and approximately elliptical orbit around the Earth. The range of the variation in linear distance is from about 56 to 63.7 earth-radii, corresponding to horizontal parallax of about a degree of arc, but ranging from about 61.4' to about 54'.[15] The Astronomical Almanac and similar publications tabulate the lunar horizontal parallax and/or the linear distance of the Moon from the Earth on a periodical e.g. daily basis for the convenience of astronomers (and formerly, of navigators), and the study of the way in which this coordinate varies with time forms part of lunar theory.
Diagram of daily lunar parallax

Parallax can also be used to determine the distance to the Moon.

One way to determine the lunar parallax from one location is by using a lunar eclipse. A full shadow of the Earth on the Moon has an apparent radius of curvature equal to the difference between the apparent radii of the Earth and the Sun as seen from the Moon. This radius can be seen to be equal to 0.75 degree, from which (with the solar apparent radius 0.25 degree) we get an Earth apparent radius of 1 degree. This yields for the Earth-Moon distance 60.27 Earth radii or 384,399 kilometres (238,854 mi) This procedure was first used by Aristarchus of Samos[17] and Hipparchus, and later found its way into the work of Ptolemy.[18] The diagram at right shows how daily lunar parallax arises on the geocentric and geostatic planetary model in which the Earth is at the centre of the planetary system and does not rotate. It also illustrates the important point that parallax need not be caused by any motion of the observer, contrary to some definitions of parallax that say it is, but may arise purely from motion of the observed.

Another method is to take two pictures of the Moon at exactly the same time from two locations on Earth and compare the positions of the Moon relative to the stars. Using the orientation of the Earth, those two position measurements, and the distance between the two locations on the Earth, the distance to the Moon can be triangulated:
\mathrm{distance}_{\textrm{moon}} = \frac {\mathrm{distance}_{\mathrm{observerbase}}} {\tan (\mathrm{angle})}
Example of lunar parallax: Occultation of Pleiades by the Moon

This is the method referred to by Jules Verne in From the Earth to the Moon:
Until then, many people had no idea how one could calculate the distance separating the Moon from the Earth. The circumstance was exploited to teach them that this distance was obtained by measuring the parallax of the Moon. If the word parallax appeared to amaze them, they were told that it was the angle subtended by two straight lines running from both ends of the Earth's radius to the Moon. If they had doubts on the perfection of this method, they were immediately shown that not only did this mean distance amount to a whole two hundred thirty-four thousand three hundred and forty-seven miles (94,330 leagues), but also that the astronomers were not in error by more than seventy miles (≈ 30 leagues).

Solar parallax

After Copernicus proposed his heliocentric system, with the Earth in revolution around the Sun, it was possible to build a model of the whole solar system without scale. To ascertain the scale, it is necessary only to measure one distance within the solar system, e.g., the mean distance from the Earth to the Sun (now called an astronomical unit, or AU). When found by triangulation, this is referred to as the solar parallax, the difference in position of the Sun as seen from the Earth's centre and a point one Earth radius away, i. e., the angle subtended at the Sun by the Earth's mean radius.
Knowing the solar parallax and the mean Earth radius allows one to calculate the AU, the first, small step on the long road of establishing the size and expansion age[19] of the visible Universe.

A primitive way to determine the distance to the Sun in terms of the distance to the Moon was already proposed by Aristarchus of Samos in his book On the Sizes and Distances of the Sun and Moon. He noted that the Sun, Moon, and Earth form a right triangle (right angle at the Moon) at the moment of first or last quarter moon. He then estimated that the Moon, Earth, Sun angle was 87°. Using correct geometry but inaccurate observational data, Aristarchus concluded that the Sun was slightly less than 20 times farther away than the Moon. The true value of this angle is close to 89° 50', and the Sun is actually about 390 times farther away.[17] He pointed out that the Moon and Sun have nearly equal apparent angular sizes and therefore their diameters must be in proportion to their distances from Earth. He thus concluded that the Sun was around 20 times larger than the Moon; this conclusion, although incorrect, follows logically from his incorrect data. It does suggest that the Sun is clearly larger than the Earth, which could be taken to support the heliocentric model.[20]
Measuring Venus transit times to determine solar parallax

Although Aristarchus' results were incorrect due to observational errors, they were based on correct geometric principles of parallax, and became the basis for estimates of the size of the solar system for almost 2000 years, until the transit of Venus was correctly observed in 1761 and 1769.[17] This method was proposed by Edmond Halley in 1716, although he did not live to see the results. The use of Venus transits was less successful than had been hoped due to the black drop effect, but the resulting estimate, 153 million kilometers, is just 2% above the currently accepted value, 149.6 million kilometers.

Much later, the Solar System was 'scaled' using the parallax of asteroids, some of which, such as Eros, pass much closer to Earth than Venus. In a favourable opposition, Eros can approach the Earth to within 22 million kilometres.[21] Both the opposition of 1901 and that of 1930/1931 were used for this purpose, the calculations of the latter determination being completed by Astronomer Royal Sir Harold Spencer Jones.[22]

Also radar reflections, both off Venus (1958) and off asteroids, like Icarus, have been used for solar parallax determination. Today, use of spacecraft telemetry links has solved this old problem. The currently accepted value of solar parallax is 8".794 143.[23]

Dynamic or moving-cluster parallax

The open stellar cluster Hyades in Taurus extends over such a large part of the sky, 20 degrees, that the proper motions as derived from astrometry appear to converge with some precision to a perspective point north of Orion. Combining the observed apparent (angular) proper motion in seconds of arc with the also observed true (absolute) receding motion as witnessed by the Doppler redshift of the stellar spectral lines, allows estimation of the distance to the cluster (151 light-years) and its member stars in much the same way as using annual parallax.[24]
Dynamic parallax has sometimes also been used to determine the distance to a supernova, when the optical wave front of the outburst is seen to propagate through the surrounding dust clouds at an apparent angular velocity, while its true propagation velocity is known to be the speed of light.[25]

Derivation

For a right triangle,
\sin p = \frac {1 AU} {d} ,
where p is the parallax, 1 AU (149,600,000 km) is approximately the average distance from the Sun to Earth, and d is the distance to the star. Using small-angle approximations (valid when the angle is small compared to 1 radian),
\sin x \approx x\textrm{\ radians} = x \cdot \frac {180} {\pi} \textrm{\ degrees} = x \cdot 180  \cdot \frac {3600} {\pi} \textrm{\ arcseconds} ,
so the parallax, measured in arcseconds, is
p'' \approx \frac {1 \textrm{\ AU}} {d} \cdot 180 \cdot \frac{3600} {\pi} .
If the parallax is 1", then the distance is
d = 1 \textrm{\ AU}  \cdot 180 \cdot \frac {3600} {\pi} \approx 206,265 \textrm{\ AU} \approx 3.2616 \textrm{\ ly} \equiv 1 \textrm{\ parsec} .
This defines the parsec, a convenient unit for measuring distance using parallax. Therefore, the distance, measured in parsecs, is simply d = 1 / p, when the parallax is given in arcseconds.[26]

Parallax error in astronomy

Precise parallax measurements of distance have an associated error. However this error in the measured parallax angle does not translate directly into an error for the distance, except for relatively small errors. The reason for this is that an error toward a smaller angle results in a greater error in distance than an error toward a larger angle.

However, an approximation of the distance error can be computed by
\delta d = \delta \left( {1 \over p} \right) =\left| {\partial \over \partial p} \left( {1 \over p} \right) \right| \delta p ={\delta p \over p^2}
where d is the distance and p is the parallax. The approximation is far more accurate for parallax errors that are small relative to the parallax than for relatively large errors. For meaningful results in stellar astronomy, Dutch astronomer Floor van Leeuwen recommends that the parallax error be no more than 10% of the total parallax when computing this error estimate.[27]

Parallax error in measurement instruments

The correct line of sight needs to be used to avoid parallax error.

Measurements made by viewing the position of some marker relative to something to be measured are subject to parallax error if the marker is some distance away from the object of measurement and not viewed from the correct position. For example, if measuring the distance between two ticks on a line with a ruler marked on its top surface, the thickness of the ruler will separate its markings from the ticks. If viewed from a position not exactly perpendicular to the ruler, the apparent position will shift and the reading will be less accurate than the ruler is capable of.

A similar error occurs when reading the position of a pointer against a scale in an instrument such as an analog multimeter. To help the user avoid this problem, the scale is sometimes printed above a narrow strip of mirror, and the user's eye is positioned so that the pointer obscures its own reflection, guaranteeing that the user's line of sight is perpendicular to the mirror and therefore to the scale. The same effect alters the speed read on a car's speedometer by a driver in front of it and a passenger off to the side, values read from a graticule not in actual contact with the display on an oscilloscope, etc.

Photogrammetric parallax

Aerial picture pairs, when viewed through a stereo viewer, offer a pronounced stereo effect of landscape and buildings. High buildings appear to 'keel over' in the direction away from the centre of the photograph. Measurements of this parallax are used to deduce the height of the buildings, provided that flying height and baseline distances are known. This is a key component to the process of photogrammetry.

Parallax error in photography

Contax III rangefinder camera with macro photography setting. Because the viewfinder is on top of the lens and of the close proximity of the subject, goggles are fitted in front of the rangefinder and a dedicated viewfinder installed to compensate for parallax.

Parallax error can be seen when taking photos with many types of cameras, such as twin-lens reflex cameras and those including viewfinders (such as rangefinder cameras). In such cameras, the eye sees the subject through different optics (the viewfinder, or a second lens) than the one through which the photo is taken. As the viewfinder is often found above the lens of the camera, photos with parallax error are often slightly lower than intended, the classic example being the image of person with his or her head cropped off. This problem is addressed in single-lens reflex cameras, in which the viewfinder sees through the same lens through which the photo is taken (with the aid of a movable mirror), thus avoiding parallax error.

Parallax is also an issue in image stitching, such as for panoramas.

Parallax in sights

Parallax affects sights in many ways. On sights fitted to small arms, bows in archery, etc. the distance between the sighting mechanism and the weapon's bore or axis can introduce significant errors when firing at close range, particularly when firing at small targets. This difference is generally referred to as "sight height"[28] and is compensated for (when needed) via calculations that also take in other variables such as bullet drop, windage, and the distance at which the target is expected to be.[29] Sight height can be used to advantage when "sighting-in" rifles for field use. A typical hunting rifle (.222 with telescopic sights) sighted-in at 75m will be useful from 50m to 200m without further adjustment.[citation needed]

Parallax in optical sights

In optical sights parallax refers to the apparent movement of the reticle in relationship to the target when the user moves his/her head laterally behind the sight (up/down or left/right),[30] i.e. it is an error where the reticle does not stay aligned with the sight's own optical axis.
In optical instruments such as telescopes, microscopes, or in telescopic sights used on small arms and theodolites, the error occurs when the optics are not precisely focused: the reticle will appear to move with respect to the object focused on if one moves one's head sideways in front of the eyepiece. Some firearm telescopic sights are equipped with a parallax compensation mechanism which basically consists of a movable optical element that enables the optical system to project the picture of objects at varying distances and the reticle crosshairs pictures together in exactly the same optical plane. Telescopic sights may have no parallax compensation because they can perform very acceptably without refinement for parallax with the sight being permanently adjusted for the distance that best suits their intended usage. Typical standard factory parallax adjustment distances for hunting telescopic sights are 100 yd or 100 m to make them suited for hunting shots that rarely exceed 300 yd/m. Some target and military style telescopic sights without parallax compensation may be adjusted to be parallax free at ranges up to 300 yd/m to make them better suited for aiming at longer ranges.[citation needed] Scopes for rimfires, shotguns, and muzzleloaders will have shorter parallax settings, commonly 50 yd/m[citation needed] for rimfire scopes and 100 yd/m[citation needed] for shotguns and muzzleloaders. Scopes for airguns are very often found with adjustable parallax, usually in the form of an adjustable objective, or AO. These may adjust down as far as 3 yards (2.74 m).[citation needed]

Non-magnifying reflector or "reflex" sights have the ability to be theoretically "parallax free." But since these sights use parallel collimated light this is only true when the target is at infinity. At finite distances eye movement perpendicular to the device will cause parallax movement in the reticle image in exact relationship to eye position in the cylindrical column of light created by the collimating optics.[31][32] Firearm sights, such as some red dot sights, try to correct for this via not focusing the reticle at infinity, but instead at some finite distance, a designed target range where the reticle will show very little movement due to parallax.[31] Some manufactures market reflector sight models they call "parallax free,"[33] but this refers to an optical system that compensates for off axis spherical aberration, an optical error induced by the spherical mirror used in the sight that can cause the reticle position to diverge off the sight's optical axis with change in eye position.[34][35]

Artillery gunfire

Because of the positioning of field or naval artillery guns, each one has a slightly different perspective of the target relative to the location of the fire-control system itself. Therefore, when aiming its guns at the target, the fire control system must compensate for parallax in order to assure that fire from each gun converges on the target.

Parallax rangefinders

Parallax theory for finding naval distances

A coincidence rangefinder or parallax rangefinder can be used to find distance to a target.

As a metaphor

In a philosophic/geometric sense: an apparent change in the direction of an object, caused by a change in observational position that provides a new line of sight. The apparent displacement, or difference of position, of an object, as seen from two different stations, or points of view. In contemporary writing parallax can also be the same story, or a similar story from approximately the same time line, from one book told from a different perspective in another book. The word and concept feature prominently in James Joyce's 1922 novel, Ulysses. Orson Scott Card also used the term when referring to Ender's Shadow as compared to Ender's Game.

The metaphor is invoked by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek in his work The Parallax View. Žižek borrowed the concept of "parallax view" from the Japanese philosopher and literary critic Kojin Karatani. "The philosophical twist to be added (to parallax), of course, is that the observed distance is not simply subjective, since the same object that exists 'out there' is seen from two different stances, or points of view. It is rather that, as Hegel would have put it, subject and object are inherently mediated so that an 'epistemological' shift in the subject's point of view always reflects an ontological shift in the object itself. Or—to put it in Lacanese—the subject's gaze is always-already inscribed into the perceived object itself, in the guise of its 'blind spot,' that which is 'in the object more than object itself', the point from which the object itself returns the gaze. Sure the picture is in my eye, but I am also in the picture."[36]

Observable universe

Observable universe

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hubble Ultra-Deep Field image of a region of the observable universe (equivalent sky area size shown in bottom left corner), near the constellation Fornax. Each spot is a galaxy, consisting of billions of stars. The light from the smallest, most red-shifted galaxies originated nearly 14 billion years ago.

The observable universe consists of the galaxies and other matter that can, in principle, be observed from Earth in the present day because light and other signals from these objects has had time to reach the Earth since the beginning of the cosmological expansion. Assuming the universe is isotropic, the distance to the edge of the observable universe is roughly the same in every direction. That is, the observable universe is a spherical volume (a ball) centered on the observer, regardless of the shape of the universe as a whole.[citation needed] Every location in the universe has its own observable universe, which may or may not overlap with the one centered on Earth.

The word observable used in this sense does not depend on whether modern technology actually permits detection of radiation from an object in this region (or indeed on whether there is any radiation to detect). It simply indicates that it is possible in principle for light or other signals from the object to reach an observer on Earth. In practice, we can see light only from as far back as the time of photon decoupling in the recombination epoch. That is when particles were first able to emit photons that were not quickly re-absorbed by other particles. Before then, the universe was filled with a plasma that was opaque to photons.

The surface of last scattering is the collection of points in space at the exact distance that photons from the time of photon decoupling just reach us today. These are the photons we detect today as cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR). However, with future technology, it may be possible to observe the still older relic neutrino background, or even more distant events via gravitational waves (which also should move at the speed of light). Sometimes astrophysicists distinguish between the visible universe, which includes only signals emitted since recombination—and the observable universe, which includes signals since the beginning of the cosmological expansion (the Big Bang in traditional cosmology, the end of the inflationary epoch in modern cosmology). According to calculations, the comoving distance (current proper distance) to particles from the CMBR, which represent the radius of the visible universe, is about 14.0 billion parsecs (about 45.7 billion light years), while the comoving distance to the edge of the observable universe is about 14.3 billion parsecs (about 46.6 billion light years),[1] about 2% larger.

The best estimate of the age of the universe as of 2013 is 13.798 ± 0.037 billion years[2] but due to the expansion of space humans are observing objects that were originally much closer but are now considerably farther away (as defined in terms of cosmological proper distance, which is equal to the comoving distance at the present time) than a static 13.8 billion light-years distance.[3] It is estimated that the diameter of the observable universe is about 28 billion parsecs (93 billion light-years),[4] putting the edge of the observable universe at about 46–47 billion light-years away.[5][6]

The universe versus the observable universe

Some parts of the universe are too far away for the light emitted since the Big Bang to have had enough time to reach Earth, so these portions of the universe lie outside the observable universe. In the future, light from distant galaxies will have had more time to travel, so additional regions will become observable. However, due to Hubble's law regions sufficiently distant from us are expanding away from us faster than the speed of light (special relativity prevents nearby objects in the same local region from moving faster than the speed of light with respect to each other, but there is no such constraint for distant objects when the space between them is expanding; see uses of the proper distance for a discussion) and furthermore the expansion rate appears to be accelerating due to dark energy. Assuming dark energy remains constant (an unchanging cosmological constant), so that the expansion rate of the universe continues to accelerate, there is a "future visibility limit" beyond which objects will never enter our observable universe at any time in the infinite future, because light emitted by objects outside that limit would never reach us. (A subtlety is that, because the Hubble 
parameter is decreasing with time, there can be cases where a galaxy that is receding from us just a bit faster than light does emit a signal that reaches us eventually[6][7]). This future visibility limit is calculated at a comoving distance of 19 billion parsecs (62 billion light years) assuming the universe will keep expanding forever, which implies the number of galaxies that we can ever theoretically observe in the infinite future (leaving aside the issue that some may be impossible to observe in practice due to redshift, as discussed in the following paragraph) is only larger than the number currently observable by a factor of 2.36.[1]
Artist's logarithmic scale conception of the observable universe with the Solar System at the center, inner and outer planets, Kuiper belt, Oort cloud, Alpha Centauri, Perseus Arm, Milky Way galaxy, Andromeda galaxy, nearby galaxies, Cosmic Web, Cosmic microwave radiation and the Big Bang's invisible plasma on the edge.

Though in principle more galaxies will become observable in the future, in practice an increasing number of galaxies will become extremely redshifted due to ongoing expansion, so much so that they will seem to disappear from view and become invisible.[8][9][10] An additional subtlety is that a galaxy at a given comoving distance is defined to lie within the "observable universe" if we can receive signals emitted by the galaxy at any age in its past history (say, a signal sent from the galaxy only 500 million years after the Big Bang), but because of the universe's expansion, there may be some later age at which a signal sent from the same galaxy can never reach us at any point in the infinite future (so for example we might never see what the galaxy looked like 10 billion years after the Big Bang),[11] even though it remains at the same comoving distance (comoving distance is defined to be constant with time—unlike proper distance, which is used to define recession velocity due to the expansion of space), which is less than the comoving radius of the observable universe.[clarification needed] This fact can be used to define a type of cosmic event horizon whose distance from us changes over time. For example, the current distance to this horizon is about 16 billion light years, meaning that a signal from an event happening at present can eventually reach us in the future if the event is less than 16 billion light years away, but the signal will never reach us if the event is more than 16 billion light years away.[6]

Both popular and professional research articles in cosmology often use the term "universe" to mean "observable universe". This can be justified on the grounds that we can never know anything by direct experimentation about any part of the universe that is causally disconnected from us, although many credible theories require a total universe much larger than the observable universe. No evidence exists to suggest that the boundary of the observable universe constitutes a boundary on the universe as a whole, nor do any of the mainstream cosmological models propose that the universe has any physical boundary in the first place, though some models propose it could be finite but unbounded, like a higher-dimensional analogue of the 2D surface of a sphere that is finite in area but has no edge. It is plausible that the galaxies within our observable universe represent only a minuscule fraction of the galaxies in the universe. According to the theory of cosmic inflation and its founder, Alan Guth, if it is assumed that inflation began about 10−37 seconds after the Big Bang, then with the plausible assumption that the size of the universe at this time was approximately equal to the speed of light times its age, that would suggest that at present the entire universe's size is at least 3x1023 times larger than the size of the observable universe.[12] There are also lower estimates claiming that the entire universe is in excess of 250 times larger than the observable universe.[13]

If the universe is finite but unbounded, it is also possible that the universe is smaller than the observable universe. In this case, what we take to be very distant galaxies may actually be duplicate images of nearby galaxies, formed by light that has circumnavigated the universe. It is difficult to test this hypothesis experimentally because different images of a galaxy would show different eras in its history, and consequently might appear quite different. Bielewicz et al.[14] claims to establish a lower bound of 27.9 gigaparsecs (91 billion light-years) on the diameter of the last scattering surface (since this is only a lower bound, the paper leaves open the possibility that the whole universe is much larger, even infinite). This value is based on matching-circle analysis of the WMAP 7 year data. This approach has been disputed.[15]

Size

Visualization of the 93 billion light year – or 28 billion parsec – three-dimensional observable universe. The scale is such that the fine grains represent collections of large numbers of superclusters. The Virgo Supercluster – home of Milky Way – is marked at the center, but is too small to be seen in the image.

The comoving distance from Earth to the edge of the observable universe is about 14 gigaparsecs (46 billion light years or 4.3×1026 meters) in any direction. The observable universe is thus a sphere with a diameter of about 29 gigaparsecs[16] (93 Gly or 8.8×1026 m).[17] Assuming that space is roughly flat, this size corresponds to a comoving volume of about 1.3×104 Gpc3 (4.1×105 Gly3 or 3.5×1080 m3).

The figures quoted above are distances now (in cosmological time), not distances at the time the light was emitted. For example, the cosmic microwave background radiation that we see right now was emitted at the time of photon decoupling, estimated to have occurred about 380,000 years after the Big Bang,[18][19] which occurred around 13.8 billion years ago. This radiation was emitted by matter that has, in the intervening time, mostly condensed into galaxies, and those galaxies are now calculated to be about 46 billion light-years from us.[1][6] To estimate the distance to that matter at the time the light was emitted, we may first note that according to the Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker metric, which is used to model the expanding universe, if at the present time we receive light with a redshift of z, then the scale factor at the time the light was originally emitted is given by[20][21]

\! a(t) = \frac{1}{1 + z}.

WMAP nine-year results combined with other measurements give the redshift of photon decoupling as z=1091.64±0.47,[22] which implies that the scale factor at the time of photon decoupling would be 11092.64. So if the matter that originally emitted the oldest CMBR photons has a present distance of 46 billion light years, then at the time of decoupling when the photons were originally emitted, the distance would have been only about 42 million light-years.

Misconceptions

An example of one of the most common misconceptions about the size of the observable universe. Despite the fact that the universe is 13.8 billion years old, the distance to the edge of the observable universe is not 13.8 billion light-years, because the universe is expanding. This plaque appears at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City.

Many secondary sources have reported a wide variety of incorrect figures for the size of the visible universe. Some of these figures are listed below, with brief descriptions of possible reasons for misconceptions about them.
13.8 billion light-years
The age of the universe is estimated to be 13.8 billion years. While it is commonly understood that nothing can accelerate to velocities equal to or greater than that of light, it is a common misconception that the radius of the observable universe must therefore amount to only 13.8 billion light-years. This reasoning would only make sense if the flat, static Minkowski spacetime conception under special relativity were correct. In the real universe, spacetime is curved in a way that corresponds to the expansion of space, as evidenced by Hubble's law. Distances obtained as the speed of light multiplied by a cosmological time interval have no direct physical significance.[23]
15.8 billion light-years
This is obtained in the same way as the 13.8 billion light year figure, but starting from an incorrect age of the universe that the popular press reported in mid-2006.[24][25] For an analysis of this claim and the paper that prompted it, see the following reference at the end of this article.[26]
27.6 billion light-years
This is a diameter obtained from the (incorrect) radius of 13.8 billion light-years.
78 billion light-years
In 2003, Cornish et al.[27] found this lower bound for the diameter of the whole universe (not just the observable part), if we postulate that the universe is finite in size due to its having a nontrivial topology,[28][29] with this lower bound based on the estimated current distance between points that we can see on opposite sides of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR). If the whole universe is smaller than this sphere, then light has had time to circumnavigate it since the big bang, producing multiple images of distant points in the CMBR, which would show up as patterns of repeating circles.[30] Cornish et al. looked for such an effect at scales of up to 24 gigaparsecs (78 Gly or 7.4×1026 m) and failed to find it, and suggested that if they could extend their search to all possible orientations, they would then "be able to exclude the possibility that we live in a universe smaller than 24 Gpc in diameter". The authors also estimated that with "lower noise and higher resolution CMB maps (from WMAP's extended mission and from Planck), we will be able to search for smaller circles and extend the limit to ~28 Gpc."[27] This estimate of the maximum lower bound that can be established by future observations corresponds to a radius of 14 gigaparsecs, or around 46 billion light years, about the same as the figure for the radius of the visible universe (whose radius is defined by the CMBR sphere) given in the opening section. A 2012 preprint by most of the same authors as the Cornish et al. paper has extended the current lower bound to a diameter of 98.5% the diameter of the CMBR sphere, or about 26 Gpc.[31]
156 billion light-years
This figure was obtained by doubling 78 billion light-years on the assumption that it is a radius.[32] Since 78 billion light-years is already a diameter (the original paper by Cornish et al. says, "By extending the search to all possible orientations, we will be able to exclude the possibility that we live in a universe smaller than 24 Gpc in diameter," and 24 Gpc is 78 billion light years),[27] the doubled figure is incorrect. This figure was very widely reported.[32][33][34] A press release from Montana State University – Bozeman, where Cornish works as an astrophysicist, noted the error when discussing a story that had appeared in Discover magazine, saying "Discover mistakenly reported that the universe was 156 billion light-years wide, thinking that 78 billion was the radius of the universe instead of its diameter."[35]
180 billion light-years
This estimate combines the erroneous 156 billion light-year figure with evidence that the M33 Galaxy is actually fifteen percent farther away than previous estimates and that, therefore, the Hubble constant is fifteen percent smaller.[36] The 180 billion figure is obtained by adding 15% to 156 billion light years.

Large-scale structure

Sky surveys and mappings of the various wavelength bands of electromagnetic radiation (in particular 21-cm emission) have yielded much information on the content and character of the universe's structure. The organization of structure appears to follow as a hierarchical model with organization up to the scale of superclusters and filaments. Larger than this, there seems to be no continued structure, a phenomenon that has been referred to as the End of Greatness.

Walls, filaments, and voids


The organization of structure arguably begins at the stellar level, though most cosmologists rarely address astrophysics on that scale. Stars are organized into galaxies, which in turn form galaxy groups, galaxy clusters, superclusters, sheets, walls and filaments, which are separated by immense voids, creating a vast foam-like structure sometimes called the "cosmic web". Prior to 1989, it was commonly assumed that virialized galaxy clusters were the largest structures in existence, and that they were distributed more or less uniformly throughout the universe in every direction. However, since the early 1980s, more and more structures have been discovered. In 1983, Adrian Webster identified the Webster LQG, a large quasar group consisting of 5 quasars. The discovery was the first identification of a large-scale structure, and has expanded the information about the known grouping of matter in the universe. In 1987, Robert Brent Tully identified the Pisces–Cetus Supercluster Complex, the galaxy filament in which the Milky Way resides. It is about 1 billion light years across. That same year, an unusually large region with no galaxies has been discovered, the Giant Void, which measures 1.3 billion light years across. Based on redshift survey data, in 1989 Margaret Geller and John Huchra discovered the "Great Wall",[37] a sheet of galaxies more than 500 million light-years long and 200 million wide, but only 15 million light-years thick. The existence of this structure escaped notice for so long because it requires locating the position of galaxies in three dimensions, which involves combining location information about the galaxies with distance information from redshifts. Two years later, astronomers Roger G. Clowes and Luis E. Campusano discovered the Clowes–Campusano LQG, a large quasar group measuring two billion light years at its widest point, and was the largest known structure in the universe at the time of its announcement. In April 2003, another large-scale structure was discovered, the Sloan Great Wall. In August 2007, a possible supervoid was detected in the constellation Eridanus.[38] It coincides with the 'CMB cold spot', a cold region in the microwave sky that is highly improbable under the currently favored cosmological model. This supervoid could cause the cold spot, but to do so it would have to be improbably big, possibly a billion light-years across, almost as big as the Giant Void mentioned above.
Image (computer simulated) of an area of space more than 50 million light years across, presenting a possible large-scale distribution of light sources in the universe - precise relative contributions of galaxies and quasars are unclear.

Another large-scale structure is the Newfound Blob, a collection of galaxies and enormous gas bubbles that measures about 200 million light years across.

In recent studies the universe appears as a collection of giant bubble-like voids separated by sheets and filaments of galaxies, with the superclusters appearing as occasional relatively dense nodes. This network is clearly visible in the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey. In the figure, a three-dimensional reconstruction of the inner parts of the survey is shown, revealing an impressive view of the cosmic structures in the nearby universe. Several superclusters stand out, such as the Sloan Great Wall.

In 2011, a large quasar group was discovered, U1.11, measuring about 2.5 billion light years across. On January 11, 2013, another large quasar group, the Huge-LQG, was discovered, which was measured to be four billion light-years across, the largest known structure in the universe that time.[39] In November 2013 astronomers discovered the Hercules–Corona Borealis Great Wall,[40][41] an even bigger structure twice as large as the former. It was defined by mapping of gamma-ray bursts.[40][42]

End of Greatness

The End of Greatness is an observational scale discovered at roughly 100 Mpc (roughly 300 million lightyears) where the lumpiness seen in the large-scale structure of the universe is homogenized and isotropized in accordance with the Cosmological Principle. At this scale, no pseudo-random fractalness is apparent.[43] The superclusters and filaments seen in smaller surveys are randomized to the extent that the smooth distribution of the universe is visually apparent. It was not until the redshift surveys of the 1990s were completed that this scale could accurately be observed.[44]

Observations

"Panoramic view of the entire near-infrared sky reveals the distribution of galaxies beyond the Milky Way. The image is derived from the 2MASS Extended Source Catalog (XSC)—more than 1.5 million galaxies, and the Point Source Catalog (PSC)--nearly 0.5 billion Milky Way stars. The galaxies are color-coded by 'redshift' obtained from the UGC, CfA, Tully NBGC, LCRS, 2dF, 6dFGS, and SDSS surveys (and from various observations compiled by the NASA Extragalactic Database), or photo-metrically deduced from the K band (2.2 um). Blue are the nearest sources (z < 0.01); green are at moderate distances (0.01 < z < 0.04) and red are the most distant sources that 2MASS resolves (0.04 < z < 0.1). The map is projected with an equal area Aitoff in the Galactic system (Milky Way at center)." [45]

Another indicator of large-scale structure is the 'Lyman-alpha forest'. This is a collection of absorption lines that appear in the spectra of light from quasars, which are interpreted as indicating the existence of huge thin sheets of intergalactic (mostly hydrogen) gas. These sheets appear to be associated with the formation of new galaxies.

Caution is required in describing structures on a cosmic scale because things are often different from how they appear. Gravitational lensing (bending of light by gravitation) can make an image appear to originate in a different direction from its real source. This is caused when foreground objects (such as galaxies) curve surrounding spacetime (as predicted by general relativity), and deflect passing light rays. Rather usefully, strong gravitational lensing can sometimes magnify distant galaxies, making them easier to detect. Weak lensing (gravitational shear) by the intervening universe in general also subtly changes the observed large-scale structure. As of 2004, measurements of this subtle shear showed considerable promise as a test of cosmological models.

The large-scale structure of the universe also looks different if one only uses redshift to measure distances to galaxies. For example, galaxies behind a galaxy cluster are attracted to it, and so fall towards it, and so are slightly blueshifted (compared to how they would be if there were no cluster) On the near side, things are slightly redshifted. Thus, the environment of the cluster looks a bit squashed if using redshifts to measure distance. An opposite effect works on the galaxies already within a cluster: the galaxies have some random motion around the cluster center, and when these random motions are converted to redshifts, the cluster appears elongated. This creates a "finger of God"—the illusion of a long chain of galaxies pointed at the Earth.

Cosmography of our cosmic neighborhood

At the centre of the Hydra-Centaurus Supercluster, a gravitational anomaly called the Great Attractor affects the motion of galaxies over a region hundreds of millions of light-years across. These galaxies are all redshifted, in accordance with Hubble's law. This indicates that they are receding from us and from each other, but the variations in their redshift are sufficient to reveal the existence of a concentration of mass equivalent to tens of thousands of galaxies.

The Great Attractor, discovered in 1986, lies at a distance of between 150 million and 250 million light-years (250 million is the most recent estimate), in the direction of the Hydra and Centaurus constellations. In its vicinity there is a preponderance of large old galaxies, many of which are colliding with their neighbours, or radiating large amounts of radio waves.

In 1987 Astronomer R. Brent Tully of the University of Hawaii's Institute of Astronomy identified what he called the Pisces-Cetus Supercluster Complex, a structure one billion light years long and 150 million light years across in which, he claimed, the Local Supercluster was embedded.[46][47]

Mass of ordinary matter

The mass of the universe is often quoted as 1050 tonnes or 1053 kg.[48] In this context, mass refers to ordinary matter and includes the interstellar medium (ISM) and the intergalactic medium (IGM). However, it excludes dark matter and dark energy. Three calculations substantiate this quoted value for the mass of ordinary matter in the universe: Estimates based on critical density, extrapolations from number of stars, and estimates based on steady-state. The calculations obviously assume a finite universe.

Estimates based on critical density

Critical Density is the energy density where the expansion of the universe is poised between continued expansion and collapse.[49] Observations of the cosmic microwave background from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe suggest that the spatial curvature of the universe is very close to zero, which in current cosmological models implies that the value of the density parameter must be very close to a certain critical density value. At this condition, the calculation for \rho_c critical density, is):[50]

\rho_c = \frac{3H_0^2}{8 \pi G}

where G is the gravitational constant. From The European Space Agency's Planck Telescope results: H_0, is 67.15 kilometers per second per mega parsec. This gives a critical density of 0.85×10−26 kg/m3 (commonly quoted as about 5 hydrogen atoms/m3). This density includes four significant types of energy/mass: ordinary matter (4.8%), neutrinos (0.1%), cold dark matter (26.8%), and dark energy (68.3%).[2] Note that although neutrinos are defined as particles like electrons, they are listed separately because they are difficult to detect and so different from ordinary matter. Thus, the density of ordinary matter is 4.8% of the total critical density calculated or 4.08×10−28 kg/m3. To convert this density to mass we must multiply by volume, a value based on the radius of the "observable universe". Since the universe has been expanding for 13.7 billion years, the comoving distance (radius) is now about 46.6 billion light years. Thus, volume (4/3 π r3) equals 3.58×1080 m3 and mass of ordinary matter equals density (4.08×10−28 kg/m3) times volume (3.58×1080 m3) or 1.46×1053 kg.

Extrapolation from number of stars

There is currently no way to know exactly the number of stars, but from current literature, the range of 1022 to 1024 is normally quoted.[51][52][53][54] One way to substantiate this range is to estimate the number of galaxies and multiply by the number of stars in an average galaxy. The 2004 Hubble Ultra-Deep Field image contains an estimated 10,000 galaxies.[55] The patch of sky in this area, is 3.4 arc minutes on each side. For a relative comparison, it would require over 50 of these images to cover the full moon. If this area is typical for the entire sky, there are over 100 billion galaxies in the universe.[56] More recently, in 2012, Hubble scientists produced the Hubble Extreme Deep Field image which showed slightly more galaxies for a comparable area.[57] However, in order to compute the number of stars based on these images, we would need additional assumptions: the percent of both large and dwarf galaxies; and, their average number of stars. Thus, a reasonable option is to assume 100 billion average galaxies and 100 billion stars per average galaxy. This results in 10 22 stars. Next, we need average star mass which can be calculated from the distribution of stars in the Milky Way. Within the Milky Way, if a large number of stars are counted by spectral class, 73% are class M stars which contain only 30% of the Sun's mass. Considering mass and number of stars in each spectral class, the average star is 51.5% of the Sun's mass.[58] The Sun's mass is 2×1030 kg. so a reasonable number for the mass of an average star in the universe is 1030 kg. Thus, the mass of all stars equals the number of stars (1022) times an average mass of star (1030 kg) or 1052 kg. The next
calculation adjusts for Interstellar Medium (ISM) and Intergalactic Medium (IGM). ISM is material between stars: gas (mostly hydrogen) and dust. IGM is material between galaxies, mostly hydrogen. Ordinary matter (protons, neutrons and electrons) exists in ISM and IGM as well as in stars. In the reference, "The Cosmic Energy Inventory“, the percentage of each part is defined: stars = 5.9%, Interstellar Medium (ISM) = 1.7%, and Intergalactic Medium (IGM) = 92.4%.[59] Thus, to extrapolate the mass of the universe from the star mass, divide the 1052 kg mass calculated for stars by 5.9%. The result is 1.7×1053 kg for all the ordinary matter.

Estimates based on steady-state universe

Sir Fred Hoyle calculated the mass of an observable steady-state universe using the formula:[60]
\frac{4}{3}\pi\rho\left(\frac{c}{H}\right)^3
which can also be stated as [61]
\frac{c^3}{2GH} \
Here H = Hubble constant, ρ = Hoyle's value for the density, G = gravitational constant, and c = speed of light.

This calculation yields approximately 0.92×1053 kg; however, this represents all energy/matter and is based on the Hubble volume (the volume of a sphere with radius equal to the Hubble length of about 13.7 billion light years). The critical density calculation above was based on the comoving distance radius of 46.6 billion light years. Thus, the Hoyle equation mass/energy result must be adjusted for increased volume. The comoving distance radius gives a volume about 39 times greater (46.7 cubed divided by 13.7 cubed). However, as volume increases, ordinary matter and dark matter would not increase; only dark energy increases with volume. Thus, assuming ordinary matter, neutrinos, and dark matter are 31.7% of the total mass/energy, and dark energy is 68.3%, the amount of total mass/energy for the steady-state calculation would be: mass of ordinary matter and dark matter (31.7% times 0.92×1053 kg) plus the mass of dark energy ((68.3% times 0.92×1053 kg) times increased volume (39)). This equals: 2.48×1054 kg. As noted above for the Critical Density method, ordinary matter is 4.8% of all energy/matter. If the Hoyle result is multiplied by this percent, the result for ordinary matter is 1.20×1053 kg.

Comparison of results

In summary, the three independent calculations produced reasonably close results: 1.46×1053 kg, 1.7×1053 kg, and 1.20×1053 kg. The average is 1.45×1053 kg.

The key assumptions using the Extrapolation from Star Mass method were the number of stars (1022) and the percentage of ordinary matter in stars (5.9%). The key assumptions using the Critical Density method were the comoving distance radius of the universe (46.6 billion light years) and the percentage of ordinary matter in all matter (4.8%). The key assumptions using the Hoyle steady-state method were the comoving distance radius and the percentage of dark energy in all mass (68.3%). Both the Critical Density and the Hoyle steady-state equations also used the Hubble constant (67.15 km/s/Mpc).

Matter content — number of atoms

Assuming the mass of ordinary matter is about 1.45×1053 kg (reference previous section) and assuming all atoms are hydrogen atoms (which in reality make up about 74% of all atoms in our galaxy by mass, see Abundance of the chemical elements), calculating the estimated total number of atoms in the universe is straightforward. Divide the mass of ordinary matter by the mass of a hydrogen atom (1.45×1053 kg divided by 1.67×10−27 kg). The result is approximately 1080 hydrogen atoms.

Most distant objects

The most distant astronomical object yet announced as of January 2011 is a galaxy candidate classified UDFj-39546284. In 2009, a gamma ray burst, GRB 090423, was found to have a redshift of 8.2, which indicates that the collapsing star that caused it exploded when the universe was only 630 million years old.[62] The burst happened approximately 13 billion years ago,[63] so a distance of about 13 billion light years was widely quoted in the media (or sometimes a more precise figure of 13.035 billion light years),[62] though this would be the "light travel distance" (see Distance measures (cosmology)) rather than the "proper distance" used in both Hubble's law and in defining the size of the observable universe (cosmologist Ned Wright argues against the common use of light travel distance in astronomical press releases on this page, and at the bottom of the page offers online calculators that can be used to calculate the current proper distance to a distant object in a flat universe based on either the redshift z or the light travel time). The proper distance for a redshift of 8.2 would be about 9.2 Gpc,[64] or about 30 billion light years. Another record-holder for most distant object is a galaxy observed through and located beyond Abell 2218, also with a light travel distance of approximately 13 billion light years from Earth, with observations from the Hubble telescope indicating a redshift between 6.6 and 7.1, and observations from Keck telescopes indicating a redshift towards the upper end of this range, around 7.[65] The galaxy's light now observable on Earth would have begun to emanate from its source about 750 million years after the Big Bang.[66]

Horizons

The limit of observability in our universe is set by a set of cosmological horizons which limit, based on various physical constraints, the extent to which we can obtain information about various events in the universe. The most famous horizon is the particle horizon which sets a limit on the precise distance that can be seen due to the finite age of the Universe. Additional horizons are associated with the possible future extent of observations (larger than the particle horizon owing to the expansion of space), an "optical horizon" at the surface of last scattering, and associated horizons with the surface of last scattering for neutrinos and gravitational waves.
A diagram of our location in the observable universe. (Click here for an alternate image.)